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North Korea Ping Pong Diplomacy With U.S. Table Tennis Star

2/7/2015 12:45 AM PST

North Korea -- Ping Pong Diplomacy ... With U.S. Table Tennis Star

EXCLUSIVE

Basketball didn't work ... but the future of U.S., N. Korean relations could rest in the hands of an American ping pong player ... TMZ Sports has learned.

We know ... several members of the N. Korean team struck up a friendship with American table tennis player Adam Bobrow last month at an international tournament in Dubai.

Bobrow -- whose "excessive ping pong celebration" made him an Internet sensation -- tells us at first, the North Korean team was exceptionally reclusive ... keeping their distance from other teams and other players. 

"I felt like there was this bubble around them that nobody was willing to penetrate. Like they were off limits to talk to ... and I thought to myself, 'They're people just like me. Why can't I talk to them?'"

Eventually, Bobrow says he approached the N.K. players and asked for a photo together -- and to his surprise (considering the political climate), they agreed. 

"Everyone smiled and that started the silent friendship ... because I don't speak a lot of Korean and they don't speak a lot of English."

However, the official N.K. translator spoke PERFECT English -- and Adam says they began engaging in friendly conversation ... with the translator eventually giving Adam a "gift" as a token of their friendship. 

"He gave me some books ... including a sports magazine from N. Korea. He also gave me a book of transcribed speeches of Kim Jong-un and said, 'Here are some words from our leader.'"

Adam says the speeches -- which were translated into English -- were mostly "words to pump up and inspire the nation. He talked about the history of the country and how they will stay strong."

"Everything in the book was reasonable," Bobrow says ... "No outrageous claims. I don't remember anything that struck me as bizarre or unusual."

But here's the kicker ... Bobrow says before they parted ways, he invited the N. Korean team (through the translator) to compete in the U.S. Open of Table Tennis in Las Vegas in June. 

"He didn't seem opposed to it," Bobrow says ... "He said he would bring it to the N. Korea Association and see what they think."

Bobrow says the team rep explained that he didn't have an email address -- but said he'd give his answer at the next tournament they both attend. 

"I think we were on the same page about it ... it could be a very positive thing for international relations."

The tiny ball is in their court. 

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