"Sports diplomacy" could free U.S. prisoner in N. Korea: Richardson

A sports envoy, led by well-known athletes such as former U.S. National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman, can play a crucial role in freeing Kenneth Bae, a Korean American man detained in North Korea, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Thursday in New York.

"We need what is called 'out of the box' diplomacy. We need perhaps special envoys...sports diplomacy," the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said at the Asia Society. "Do you know who I think is the only person that can get him out? Dennis Rodman."

Richardson, who has years of experience in handling North Korean issues, pointed to the importance of "out of the box diplomacy," such as Rodman's recent four-day "basketball diplomacy" trip in which the former Chicago Bulls star met with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, who is reportedly a huge fan of the sport.

"I think it's going to be something unorthodox, but hopefully it will be resolved because this man deserves to come home," he said, adding, the "Dennis Rodmans and others...might be able to open up" the reclusive nation.

Richardson visited the country in January along with Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and had a request to see Bae in person turned down, but it was He urged the international community not to forget about the detainee.

"Somehow the cries for his release have not been as strong as other detainees," Richardson said, "He's an American. He's a prisoner."

Speaking at an event called "Avoiding Apocalypse: Searching for Peace with North Korea," Richardson emphasized that despite Pyongyang's "unpredictable" nature, "hostile" rhetoric and human rights abuses, the world should continue to seek dialogue with North Korea.

"It's important nonetheless to engage 'bad people'... engagement is better than isolation," he said, "Isolating North Korea is not working; it's not going to work."

Richardson also explained that even though Internet access is restricted in North Korea, it has the potential to expose citizens to the outside world.

"The thirst for the Internet and technology among the North Korean people is going to be a factor that will play a role in moderating the country," he said.