* Schmidt a top figure in U.S. technology industry
* Purpose of trip unclear, but visit seen as private
* Washington, allies trying to intensify U.N. sanctions
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, Jan 3 The U.S. 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
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 Dec. 12 rocket
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
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.
"We are obviously aware of the trip that has been
announced," she said, later correcting herself to say that the
department was aware of media reports about the trip.
"They are private citizens. They are traveling in an
unofficial capacity," she said. "They are not going to be
accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any
messages from us. They are private citizens and they are making
their own decisions."
On Wednesday, Google did not respond directly to a question
about whether Schmidt was going to North Korea, although a
spokeswoman's response suggested a visit would not be for
"We do not comment on personal travel," spokeswoman Samantha
Smith said on Wednesday when asked about the AP report.
On Thursday, a Google spokeswoman and Richardson's office
did not respond to emails seeking comment about the State
A possible second aspect of Schmidt's visit as part of
Richardson's delegation could be to try to obtain the release of
Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae, detained and accused of
unspecified crimes against the state. Richardson has helped
negotiate the release of detained Americans in the past.
North Korea said its December rocket launch put a weather
satellite in orbit, but critics say it was aimed at nurturing
the kind of technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead with
a long-range missile.
At the United Nations, council diplomats say North Korea's
chief ally China so far has resisted U.S. and allies effort to
expand sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in response to nuclear and
missile tests in 2006 and 2009. The issue is now a bilateral one
between Washington and Beijing, the diplomats said.