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Dennis Rodman, who hangs with Trump and Kim, says Korea peace deal 'could still work'

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman, one of a handful of Westerners to have met North Korean head of state Kim Jong Un, and a friend of U.S. President Donald Trump, said on Monday he thought the two leaders could work out a deal.

“I think that it could still work. I just think that we need to stay on the right path to make it work,” said Rodman, who was at the June 2018 Singapore summit between Kim and Trump - the first between leaders of the two states who have been technically at war since the of the Korean War in 1953.

“So, I think that people should not give up on the U.S. trying to engage with North Korea in a good, safe manner,” Rodman told Reuters television in an interview.

North Korea said on Monday it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the United States in late September, but warned that chances of a deal could end unless Washington takes a fresh approach.

“I think Kim Jong Un wants peace. I know him very well, I think he wants peace. I think ... people don’t realize that he wants to move on into the 21st century. I think he doesn’t want to give up his country. I don’t blame him.”

“But I think, you know, everything else is in the way,” he said of the stalemated talks that would have North Korea dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Rodman said Trump put him on his reality show “The Apprentice” years ago “to help and guide me ... because I was out there being buck wild, doing my thing, having a good time. That’s his way of showing that he cares about me.”

Rodman’s earlier visits to North Korea included a basketball game 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.

Asked if he has Kim’s and Trump’s numbers in his dated phone, Rodman replied: “You think people have a number in this damn phone? A flip phone? Really?”

Reporting by Omar Younis; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Sandra Maler