Former NBA bad boy Rodman is back in North Korea

North Korea has freed an American university student after holding him for 17 months, a move that could signal a conciliatory tone towards Washington amid intensifying US pressure on the regime over its nuclear and missile programs.

It was not immediately clear if Rodman's visit to North Korea was purely coincidental with Warmbier's release. He said Warmbier, 22, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was en route to the US, where he will be reunited with his family.

The Washington Post reported that Warmbier was medically evacuated from the isolated state in a coma, citing his parents, although this report could not be independently confirmed by NBC News. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion as he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner. His alleged offense apparently stemmed from having taken a political poster from a building wall in Pyongyang.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed the release, and said Washington remains in talks with the isolated regime "regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained".

"Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier", Tillerson added. He has been roundly criticized for visiting during a time of high tensions between the US and North Korea over its weapons programs. He said he is "just trying to open a door" on a mission that he thinks his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss would support.

Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst who advised Rodman after an earlier trip, said that the basketballer had a "long-standing invitation" to return to North Korea.

Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

"I am pretty much sure that he is happy with the fact that I am over here trying to accomplish something that we both need", Rodman said, when asked on Tuesday if he had spoken with Trump.

Rodman later apologized for the comments he made on Bae, who was released in November that year.

Rodman's earlier visits to North Korea included a basketball game that he organized, an event chronicled in the documentary film "Big Bang in Pyongyang", which featured Rodman singing "Happy Birthday" to Kim, as well as scenes of inebriated and erratic behavior by the basketball Hall of Famer. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the ministry had not issued a formal statement.

Previous detainees have been released after visits from high-profile Americans, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

In April and May, North Korea detained two other Korean Americans, both of them affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a private institution run by Korean American Christians. It is, however, his first trip since Trump, his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss, became president. Thousands of United States troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

Rodman tweeted that his trip was being sponsored by Potcoin, one of an increasing number of cybercurrencies used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets. But efforts to convince North Korea to release the men now held have not been successful so far.

In fact, political activist, consultant and National Basketball Association agent David Sugarman put on the full court press months ago recognizing it was a similar situation to that of Kenneth Bae who Sugarman helped to free from a North Korean prison in 2014.

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