U.S.: Time not right for Google executive's North Korea trip

Thu Jan 3, 2013 4:16pm EST
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By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department said on Thursday the time was not right for Google Inc Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former diplomat Bill Richardson to visit North Korea, which drew international criticism for a rocket launch last month.

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Schmidt and Richardson would be traveling as private citizens, not representatives of the U.S. government.

"Frankly, we don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful," Nuland told reporters, citing North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket in December. "They are well aware of our views."

Reports of Schmidt's plan emerged as the United States, South Korea, Japan and their European allies were pushing at the United Nations to expand long-standing U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea after the North's December 12 rocket launch.

A source familiar with the matter on Thursday confirmed an Associated Press report that Schmidt planned to visit North Korea with Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and diplomatic troubleshooter.

The AP said Schmidt, a top figure in the U.S. technology industry and a key executive at the world's leading search engine company, could visit as early as this month, but added it was unclear which people he would meet or what his agenda is.

Google espouses a mission of organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful. North Korea is one of the world's most repressive states, with Internet access limited largely to the most influential officials and media content rigidly controlled.

Nuland stressed Schmidt and Richardson were not acting on behalf of the United States.   Continued...

Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt poses prior to a meeting at the Culture Ministry in Paris October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Miguel Medina/Pool