|Google chief sets foot in Pyongyang
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Google chairman Eric Schmidt have arrived in North Korea. It has been called a private trip.
“This is a private humanitarian mission, not connected to the US government,'' said Richardson, also a former US ambassador to the United Nations, at Beijing's airport before traveling to Pyongyang, AFP reports.
“We're going to be in Pyongyang, probably for two and a half days. We may go outside the city. We will find out when we arrive,'' he said.
The North's official KCNA news agency announced their arrival in Pyongyang as “a US Google delegation headed by former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson''.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Bae, an American of Korean descent, is being held in North Korea and his son contacted Richardson to ask for his help, the politician said last week. North Korea has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to high-profile 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.
But the US State Department has voiced concerns about the trip, saying it was ill-timed.
Also on the trip were Richardson's longtime aide on North Korea, K.A. ‘Tony’ Namkung, Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, a think-tank run by the California-based Internet giant, and some staff, according to a statement from Richardson's office.
Bae, who was arrested in November, entered the country as a tourist, according to the North's official news agency which said he had admitted committing a crime against the state.
Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, said Sunday that Richardson's trip was unrelated to the authorities in Washington.
“They will not be carrying any messages from the US government,'' Barkhouse told AFP, adding: “They will not be accompanied by any US officials.’’
Asked about the trip, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry said only: “We have noticed relevant press reports.’’