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Kerry on Rodman: 'As a diplomat, he is a great basketball player'

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to NBC's Andrea Mitchell and defends President Obama's decision not to arm the Syrian rebels. He also weighs in on Dennis Rodman's recent trip to North Korea, saying that Rodman "is a great basketball player, and as a diplomat… he's a great basketball player."

Secretary of State John Kerry took a shot Tuesday at eccentric former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s controversial visit to North Korea.

"Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player,"Kerry told NBC News. “And as a diplomat, he is a great basketball player. And that’s where we’ll leave it.”

Kerry spoke in Doha, Qatar, for an interview to air later in the day on "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on MSNBC.

Rodman visited North Korea last week and met with leader Kim Jong Un, pronouncing him an "awesome guy." In Pyongyang, on his way out of the country, the lip-studded basketball player said of Kim: "Guess what? I love him."

The visit did not sit well with the White House, which denounced it as a "celebrity sporting event" for a repressive regime and said North Korea should focus on the well-being of its own people, "who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights."

Report: North Korea threatens to scrap truce with South

In the interview, Kerry also defended the Obama administration’s decision not to provide weapons to rebels fighting against the authoritarian regime in Syria.

"The president prefers, as I do and everybody does, to try to have a diplomatic resolution of this," Kerry said.

Rebels have fought for two years against the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria. The United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed.

KCNA via AFP - Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch a basketball game in Pyongyang on Feb. 28 in this image released by North Korea's official news agency.

The United States and other Western countries have promised aid for the rebels but not arms. The Obama administration has said that weapons for the rebels could fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Pressed on whether the United States might reconsider if it had some certainty about where the weapons would go, Kerry stressed U.S. humanitarian support for the estimated 1 million people displaced by the Syrian civil war.

"We don’t want this killing," he added. "President Assad could quickly decide to come to the table and negotiate."

On Iran and its disputed nuclear ambitions, Kerry said: "There will not be a negotiation that turns into an eternal delay."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend that renewed international efforts to negotiate curbs on the Iranian nuclear program are simply giving it more time to build a bomb. Iran denies seeking nuclear arms.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear inspections arm of the United Nations, said Monday that the agency "cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

In the NBC interview, Kerry said that Iran "will not run any clock on this."

"This is not an infinite process," he said. "It’s finite. Our preference, President Obama’s preference, clearly stated, is to ask the Iranians to come to the table in good faith, in mutual respect, and do what they say they’re doing."

Reuters contributed to this report. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney addresses Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea and his message to President Obama from Kim Jong Un.

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