* Richardson may seek release of detained American
* Washington says trip ill-timed following missile launch
By David Chance
SEOUL, Jan 7 Former New Mexico Governor Bill
Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt
will start their controversial private mission to North Korea on
Monday that may include an effort to secure the release of an
imprisoned American, South Korean media reported.
The trip comes after North Korea carried out a long range
rocket test last month and as the reclusive state continues work
on its nuclear testing facilities according to satellite
imagery, potentially paving the way for a third nuclear bomb
South Korean broadcaster MBC said the delegation comprising
Schmidt, his daughter, Richardson and Google executive Jared
Cohen would leave for Pyongyang on North Korean state carrier
Air Koryo on flight CA121 at 1.40 pm on Monday.
It did not cite any named sources, although another South
Korean broadcaster YTN also reported the trip would start
The mission has been criticised by the White House due to
the sensitivity of the timing. The United States does not have
diplomatic relations with North Korea and the isolated and
impoverished state remains technically at war with South Korea.
South Korea is in the midst of a transition to a new
president who will take office in February, while Japan, another
major U.S. ally in the region, has a new prime minister.
A U.S. official said the trip's timing was particularly bad
from the Obama administration's point of view because it comes
as the U.N. Security Council ponders how to respond to North
Korea's Dec. 12 missile launch.
"We are in kind of a classical provocation period with North
Korea. Usually, their missile launches are followed by nuclear
tests," said the official, who spoke on condition 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," the
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. Richardson told CBS television last Friday that he had
been contacted by Bae's family and that he would raise the issue
while in North Korea.
North Korea has used the detention of American citizens to
secure high-profile visits from U.S. officials in the past.
Its most notable success was a visit from former President
Bill Clinton in 2009 to secure the release of two American
Last year, Jared and Schmidt met defectors from North Korea,
a state that ranks bottom of Reporters Without Borders annual
survey of Internet and press freedom.
Media reports and thinktanks say that officials from the
North Korean government went to Google's headquarters in 2011,
something the U.S. technology giant has not commented on.