Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Saturday confirmed a controversial visit next week by himself and Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to U.S. enemy North Korea. Schmidt lives in the wealthy Bay Area suburb of Atherton.
Richardson’s office described the trip as “a private humanitarian mission.” Aside from Richardson and Schmidt, other members of the North Korea delegation will include Jared Cohen, a former U.S. State Department staffer who runs Google Ideas, the Internet search giant’s think tank, and North Korea expert K.A. “Tony” Namkung, a foreign policy adviser to Richardson.
The dates of the humanitarian mission weren’t released. A press conference with Richardson is set for Thursday at China’s Beijing Capital International Airport.
On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland frowned on the delegation’s trip to communist North Korea. At that point, the trip hadn’t been formally announced.
“As you know, they are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity. They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us,” Nuland told reporters. “Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.”
Asked whether the State Department would be pleased to see Google help the restrictive North Korean government expand Internet access, Nuland said: “Well, obviously we support Internet freedom around the world. We support the right of all people to have access to the Internet, and we oppose government restrictions on that wherever they are found. That said, all U.S. companies are subject to the U.S. sanctions regime with regard to (North Korea).”
In an interview Friday with “CBS This Morning,” Richardson dismissed the State Department’s concerns.
“I know the State Department is a little nervous,” Richardson said, “but we did postpone this trip already. Eric and I were going in December, and at the request of the State Department, we postponed it because of the South Korean presidential election.”
He added: “We’re not representing the State Department, so they shouldn’t be that nervous.”
Richardson told CBS that he invited Schmidt to go with him to North Korea. Schmidt stepped down as Google’s CEO in 2011.
“He is going as a private citizen,” Richardson said. “This is not a Google trip.”
Mountain View-based Google has declined to comment on Schmidt’s travels.
Richardson was governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011. Previously, he was a New Mexico congressman, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the U.S. energy secretary. He was a Democratic candidate for president in 2008.
In 2011, Richardson was named chairman of APCO Worldwide’s executive advisory firm Global Political Strategies. That same year, he also founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement “to promote international peace and dialogue by addressing specific conflicts and unresolved problems facing the world today.”