North Korea trip by Richardson, Schmidt set for next week

SAN FRANCISCO Sun Jan 6, 2013 8:07am IST

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

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

Credit: Reuters/Miguel Medina/Pool

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will lead a private humanitarian mission to North Korea next week, Richardson's office confirmed in a statement Saturday.

Richardson will hold a press conference at the Beijing airport next Thursday, but no media will be accompanying the delegation, according to the statement.

The trip comes despite public criticism from the U.S. State Department, which has said the visit was ill-timed in light of tensions stemming from North Korea's recent rocket launch.

The delegation will also include Jared Cohen, the director of a Google initiative known as Google Ideas and Schmidt's co-author on an upcoming book about how the Internet is changing the world.

Last July, Cohen organized a conference outside Los Angeles that featured nearly a dozen North Korean defectors, who gave harrowing accounts of privation and coerced criminal activity including drug sales.

Schmidt spoke at the conference and met with the group, according to panel moderator and North Korea expert Sheena Chestnut Greitens, now a graduate student at Harvard University.

K.A. Namkung, an Asia specialist and adviser to Richardson, will also take part in the trip, along with some other staff, according to the statement. A spokesperson for Richardson did not elaborate beyond the brief statement.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, has made numerous trips to North Korea. The purpose of next week's trip and the reasons for Schmidt's involvement are not clear, though Google characterized it as "personal" travel. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment.

Many observers expect Richardson to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour guide who was detained last year.

(Reporting By Jonathan Weber and Joseph Menn; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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