A group of Americans that includes Google Chairman Eric Schmidt arrived in North Korea on Monday, despite objections by the U.S. State Department. Dubbed the "Google delegation" by North Korea's state-owned news agency, the group also reportedly includes Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen, Schmidt's daughter, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who was once the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
It remains unclear what exactly Schmidt intends to do in the Hermit Kingdom. Richardson has explained, somewhat confusingly, that Schmidt is "interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect." Under supreme leader Kim Jong Un's iron fist, hardly anyone in North Korea has access to the world wide web, let alone Facebook.
Richardson also said the delegation was on a "private humanitarian mission" that would include a request to meet with Kenneth Bae, an American citizen who was detained by Kim's regime for unspecified crimes. "We're going to try to inquire the status, see if we can see him, possibly lay the groundwork for him coming home," said Richardson, who in 1996 helped secure the release of Evan Hunziker, another U.S. national captured by the North Koreans. "I heard from his son who lives in Washington state, who asked me to bring him back. I doubt we can do it on this trip."
The U.S. has no official lines of communication with North Korea, and has used freelance diplomats in the past to defuse crises. Most recently, Bill Clinton in 2009 won the release of two American journalists who had been detained by the North. In exchange, Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, got some badly sought recognition from a global icon, which resulted in awkward photo ops like this one.
However, Clinton was operating with the tacit approval of the Obama administration, which has not given its blessing to the Google delegation. The trip comes only a month after North Korea put a satellite into orbit with a long-range rocket, which was seen as a provocative display of the regime's progress in developing missile technology for its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.S. in the midst of corralling global support for new penalties against North Korea, and State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland has said, "We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views."
At the moment, it does indeed look like Kim Jong Un's aggression is being rewarded with a high-profile visit from American political and business leaders.
John McCain was even blunter.
Richardson and Schmidt arrive in North Korea today - Lenin used to call them "useful idiots"— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) January 7, 2013
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