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Google chairman Schmidt arrives in North Korea on humanitarian trip

Eric Schmidt traveled Monday to Pyongyang, along with former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

By Jean H. LeeAssociated Press / January 7, 2013

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt, left, disembarks from an airport transfer bus after arriving at Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Behind him, from left to right, are Google Ideas think tank director Jared Cohen and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

David Guttenfelder/AP

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Pyongyang, North Korea

Google's chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea's economy and social media during his private visit Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.

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Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of one of the world's biggest Internet companies, is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea — a country with notoriously restrictive online policies — since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago. His visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch; it has also prompted speculation about what the businessman hopes to accomplish.

Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea over the past 20 years.

Richardson, speaking ahead of the flight from Beijing, called the trip a private, humanitarian mission.

"This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this," Richardson said without elaborating on what he meant by the "social media aspect."

"We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We'll visit some universities. We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there," he said.

U.S. officials have criticized the four-day trip. North Korea on Dec. 12 fired a satellite into space using a long-range rocket. Washington condemned the launch, which it considers a test of ballistic missile technology, as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from developing its nuclear and missile programs. The Security Council is deliberating whether to take further action.

"We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.

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