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(LEAD) N. Korea's leader expresses 'expectation' for basketball exchange with U.S.

All Headlines 14:02 March 01, 2013

(ATTN: ADDS analyst's quotes in last 4 paras, new photo)

SEOUL, March 1 (Yonhap) -- After watching a basketball game with former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un expressed his "expectation" that a sports exchange with the United States could help promote "mutual understanding" between people of the two nations, the North's state media said Friday.

On his third day visiting North Korea with New York-based VICE media company, Rodman watched a mixed basketball game with Kim between American players of the Harlem Globetrotters and North Korean players on Thursday, and later dined with Kim.

During the dinner with Rodman, Kim, the Swiss-educated leader believed to be a fan of basketball, "expressed his expectation that such sports exchange would be activated, contributing to promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of the two countries," the North's KCNA news agency said in a report.

Kim also "welcomed their visit to the DPRK (North Korea), hoping that through the visit, they would become familiar with the DPRK people, especially with basketball fans," it said.

The KCNA said Kim, who took over North Korea after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011, talked with the American delegation "in an amicable atmosphere."

The KCNA said, "The white team combined man-to-man defense and fast break. The game ended in a draw 110:110."

After the game, Rodman thanked Kim, saying, "His impressive Pyongyang visit is quite satisfactory, and it is a great privilege for him," the KCNA said.

The visit by Rodman and VICE comes at a sensitive time as South Korea and the U.S. are pushing for tougher sanctions to punish North Korea for conducting its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

Still, negotiations at the Security Council have been bogged down because of China's opposition to any tougher measures that would antagonize North Korea, according to Seoul diplomats.

North Korea has threatened to take unspecified steps to retaliate if the Security Council adopts tougher sanctions for the nuclear test.

In enthusiastic coverage on the Kim-Rodman meeting, North Korea's state media carried photos, including one showing Kim hugging Rodman.

For people in North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations, the appearance of Rodman, who has piercings in his nose and lip, as well as numerous tattoos, is out of the ordinary.

Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said, "North Korea is likely to show off an image of openness about Kim Jong-un by displaying Rodman's visit at home and overseas.

"Particularly for young people in North Korea, the North appears to emphasize the image of Kim Jong-un as a friendly leader who likes sports," the expert said.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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