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Google head Schmidt joins N Korea mission

Business executive part of private "humanitarian mission" to communist state led by US politician Bill Richardson.
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2013 12:58
Schmidt and Richardson's trip has been frowned upon by the Obama administration, which labelled the timing of the visit as 'unhelpful' [Reuters/Kyodo]

Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, and Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor arrived on a controversial private mission to North Korea that includes an effort to secure the release of an imprisoned American.

A video filmed by the North's official media KCNA showed the US visitors arriving at Pyongyang airport.

"We are going to meet officials from the North Korean government, business leaders. We are going to ask about the
American who's been detained -- a humanitarian private visit," said Richardson upon his arrival.

The head of the internet firm is part of a delegation led by Richardson, a former diplomat who has travelled to the region more than a half-dozen times during the past 20 years.

Schmidt is the most prominent American business executive to visit the communist state since young leader Kim Jong-un took power a year ago.

The trip has been frowned upon by the Obama administration, which labelled the timing of the visit as "unhelpful" at a time of strained relations between the US and North Korea.

Richardson, also a former ambassador to the UN, however said that the trip is "a private humanitarian mission, not connected to the US government."

Richardson also said Schmidt was joining him on the trip in a private manner and not to represent Google.

"That may be so. But he is not the only Google executive who is on this trip," Al Jazeera's Florence Looi said - Jared Cohen, Google Ideas think-tank director, has also joined Schmidt.

"We know that Schmidt is a strong believer in how Internet connectivity can help open up a country," our correspondent said.

"We can speculate that that could be one of the reasons for Schmidt being interested in visiting the country."

During the visit, Richardson said, the delegation also plans to enquire about Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American detained in North Korea.

Bae is the fifth American held there in the past four years. The exact circumstances of his arrest were not clear.

North Korea has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to delegations led by the likes of former US president Bill Clinton, and some observers suggested it may have requested Schmidt's participation in this case.

Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, said Richardson's trip was unrelated to the authorities in Washington.

"They will not be carrying any messages from the US government," Barkhouse told AFP news agency.

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