SAN FRANCISCO Jan 5 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
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
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