Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson arrived in North Korea today, as part of a private and controversial mission to the isolated country. The precise nature of the trip has thus far remained a mystery, but according to Reuters, the mission will include an attempt to negotiate for the release of an imprisoned American.
"We are going to ask about the American who's been detained," Richardson confirmed. "A humanitarian private visit." The American in question, Kenneth Bae, is a Korean-American tour guide who was detained in November, after crossing the border into North Korea with five other tourists. In an interview with CBS News last week, the former governor said Bae's family had personally contacted him about their son, and that he would raise the issue during the trip.
"a classical provocation period with North Korea."
A former ambassador to the UN, Richardson has visited North Korea on several occasions. Schmidt's involvement, on the other hand, remains less clear. The executive has thus far declined to comment on the voyage, with Google describing it only as a "personal" trip. In addition to Schmidt and Richardson, the delegation also includes Schmidt's daughter and Google executive Jared Cohen, according to reports from South Korean media.
The mission comes at a particularly sensitive moment for the US government, which has made no secret of its displeasure with Schmidt's decision to make the trip. North Korea's successful long-range rocket launch last month has raised tensions in the region, and the UN Security Council is currently considering appropriate responses.
"We are in kind of a classical provocation period with North Korea," said a US official who spoke to Reuters on conditions of anonymity. "During these periods, it's very important that the international community come together, certainly at the level of the U.N. Security Council, to demonstrate to North Korea that they pay a price for not living up to their obligations."