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Kim Jong Un Wanted ‘Famous’ US Basketball Players as Part of Denuclearization Deal: Sources

Ahead of the second summit in Hanoi, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un requested as part of the agreement between the countries moving forward that the U.S. send “famous basketball players” to normalize relations between the two countries, according to two U.S. officials.

The request was made in writing, officials said, as part of the cultural exchange between the two countries, and at one point the North Koreans insisted that it be included in the joint statement on denuclearization. The North Koreans also made a request for the exchange of orchestras between the two countries.

“While we did not reach an agreement with the DPRK [North Korea] at Hanoi, we exchanged detailed positions and narrowed the gap on a number of issues,” a State Department official told ABC News in a statement and declined to comment on ongoing conversations.

No deal was reached at that summit Hanoi in February.

Instead, President Trump walked away from the table because he said Kim Jong Un’s demands for sanctions relief did not match with the U.S.’s request for total denuclearization.

PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a basketball game between former NBA basketball players and North Korean players of the Hwaebul team of the DPRK with Dennis Rodman, Jan. 9, 2014. (Kcna Kcna/KCNA/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a basketball game between former NBA basketball players and North Korean players of the Hwaebul team of the DPRK with Dennis Rodman, Jan. 9, 2014. (Kcna Kcna/KCNA/Reuters, FILE)

On Friday, the North Koreans fired off rocket launchers and short-range projectiles, which has been seen as a provocation since the statement following the failed summit. U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Beguin has arrived in South Korea for additional talks with Asian counterparts on how to relaunch negotiations.

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(MORE: Dennis Rodman’s unlikely friendship with Kim Jong Un: 5 things to know)

Basketball diplomacy has been tossed around in the past as a way to breakdown roadblocks with Kim, who is a diehard basketball fan. Since boarding school in Switzerland, Kim has said he loves playing basketball and would wear a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and Nike sneakers.

During the Obama administration, State Department officials considered sending basketball players to North Korea to jumpstart diplomatic efforts, according to the Washington Post.

Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il was also a fan of basketball and requested that the U.S. send Michael Jordan to North Korea.

“When I was there on my trips, the father [Kim Jong Il] through his foreign ministry people wanted me to extend an invitation to Michael Jordan,” former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson recalled from his communications in 2000 in an interview with ABC News.

Jordan declined the request. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright instead gifted the North Koreans with a basketball signed by Jordan in 2000.

During the six-party talks towards denuclearization in 2008, the U.S. sent the New York Philharmonic orchestra to North Korea to perform to maintain diplomatic relations. There were plans for the North Koreans to send their orchestra to the United States but there were issues over financing the trip.

PHOTO: Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman (3rd from L, front row) and other American basketball players pose for photos with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (3rd from R, front row) at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, Jan. 8, 2014. (Kyodo News via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman (3rd from L, front row) and other American basketball players pose for photos with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (3rd from R, front row) at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, Jan. 8, 2014. (Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Kim Jong Un forged a friendship with NBA pro Dennis Rodman, of the Chicago Bulls, his favorite team. Rodman has visited Pyongyang and brought three Harlem Globetrotters with him in March 2013 and went on to help train a national team. And while cultural exchanges are typical, some negotiators were surprised by Kim’s enthusiasm for the request.

Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador, has been involved in negotiations with the North Koreans since the 1990s.

“He’s very much like his father,” Richardson said of Kim Jong Un.

“He loves basketball and he loves cultural exchanges.”

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