Agence France Presse
Published — Friday 4 January 2013
Last update 4 January 2013 10:37 pm
WASHINGTON: Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson dismissed US government concerns over his planned trip to North Korea with Google chairman Eric Schmidt, in an interview on Friday.
“I know the State Department is a little nervous,” Richardson said on CBS This Morning, “but we did postpone this trip already.
“Eric and I were going in December, and at the request of the State Department, we postponed it because of the South Korean presidential elections.
“We’re not representing the State Department, so they shouldn’t be that nervous,” he insisted, saying that the men were planning a private mission to urge the release of a US citizen held in North Korea.
The United States on Thursday criticized the visit, saying it was ill-timed in the wake of Pyongyang’s widely condemned rocket launch last month.
But Richardson said the visit was linked to North Korea’s arrest and planned prosecution of a US citizen of Korean descent, Kenneth Bae.
“I heard from his son, who wants to get him released,” Richardson said, highlighting his past efforts at negotiating with Pyongyang.
“I’ve brought back American servicemen. I’ve brought back American hostages. I’ve negotiated for the remains of our soldiers from the Korean War.”
The former governor said he had invited Schmidt to join the trip because “he’s interested in foreign policy, he’s a friend of mine, and I felt that it was important that there be a broader perspective of our visit.”
But he said Schmidt was going as a private citizen, and not as a representative of Internet giant Google.
Pyongyang has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to high-profile delegations led by the likes of former US president Bill Clinton, and some observers suggested it may have requested Schmidt’s participation in this case.
Richardson, a veteran troubleshooter on North Korea, also said he was “concerned about the nuclear proliferation of the North Koreans.”
“I think our trip is to make an assessment of the situation in North Korea,” said Richardson, who has not traveled to the isolated nation since its new leader, Kim Jong-Un, took over from his father.
“We can bring back a perspective and at the same time try to move the North Koreans in the right direction.”
Richardson was last in Pyongyang in 2010 when he met North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator in an attempt to ease tensions after the North shelled a South Korean border island.
The US citizen arrested in November, identified as Pae Jun-Ho, entered the country as a tourist according to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) which said he had admitted committing a crime against the state.