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By RFE RL
January 3, 2013
(RFE/RL) — The U.S. State Department has criticized plans for a visit to North Korea by Google’s executive chairman.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the timing of the planned visit to Pyongyang by Google chairman Eric Schmidt was “not particularly helpful.”
She said the Internet giant was aware of the U.S. government’s opposition to the trip.
North Korea is under international sanctions over its nuclear and missile tests.
The U.S. spokeswoman said Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, if they go, would be traveling to North Korea as private citizens and would not be carrying any U.S. government messages to the North.
“They are private citizens, they are traveling in an unofficial capacity,” Nuland said. “They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials, they are not carrying any messages from us. Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful.”
Google has not officially announced the trip. But U.S. reports have quoted sources as saying it could occur as early as this month.
The purpose of the trip was not immediately clear. It was also not clear whom Schmidt, who is considered a leading figure in the U.S. technology industry, plans to meet in North Korea.
Google says part of its mission is to make the world’s information available in all countries.
Communist-led North Korea is one of the globe’s most repressive states, with Internet access blocked off to most citizens and its media tightly controlled by authorities.
Some reports suggested Schmidt could go to North Korea on a humanitarian mission to seek the release of a U.S. citizen who was detained by the North last month.
There has been no indication that the trip could be part of an initiative by North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un, who took power one year ago, to bring more technology to the impoverished North and boost its weak economy.
Ex-New Mexico Governor Richardson has traveled to North multiple times in the last 20 years on a variety of diplomatic and humanitarian missions.
The North carried out a long-range rocket launch on December 12 that was strongly condemned by the United States and its top regional allies South Korea and Japan. North Korea performed nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
Critics accuse the North Korean regime of using launches as a cover to develop long-range missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
The North has repeatedly pulled out of six-nation talks on its nuclear disarmament in exchange for aid. Those talks also involve South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.
In another development, it has been announced that U.S. regulators have closed their investigation into alleged unfair business practices by Google.
The company has agreed to make some changes to its business practices.
Google, which owns the world’s biggest Internet search engine, was accused of stifling competition in the markets for smart phones, tablet computers and games, as well as online advertising.
An alliance of other Internet companies had accused Google of favoring its own products in answers to search queries, in violation of U.S. antitrust laws. A similar probe of Google is still under way in Europe.
In its settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Google signed a decree requiring the company to charge fair prices and not use control of patents to thwart compeition from rivals.