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Schmidt's N. Korea junket 'not a Google trip,' Richardson says

Former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson defends his planned trip to North Korea accompanied by Google's Eric Schmidt, saying the State Department "shouldn't be that nervous."

Bill Richardson
On 'CBS This Morning,' Bill Richardson said the State Department need not be nervous about his trip to North Korea with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
CBSNews video/Screenshot by CNET's Jonathan Skillings

Former Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M -- who has announced that he will travel to North Korea with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt as early as this month -- brushed aside the State Department's expressed disapproval of the trip Friday on "CBS This Morning," saying, "I don't work for the U.S. government; neither does Eric Schmidt."

"I know the State Department is a little nervous," Richardson said, "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 election."

"We're not representing the State Department, so they shouldn't be that nervous," he added.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters yesterday, "We don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions."

Richardson, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, described his trip as a "private humanitarian visit" and emphasized his diplomatic experience as evidence that the State Department's anxiety is misplaced.

"I've been dealing with North Korea for 15 years," he said. "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...I know the North Koreans."

He also explained Schmidt's decision to accompany him, saying, "I invited Eric. He is going as a private citizen; this is not a Google trip. 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."

As for his agenda while he is in North Korea, Richardson explained, "We are going to raise the issue of the detainee," referring to Korean-American Kenneth Bae, whose arrest on unspecified charges was announced by the North Koreans last month.

Richardson also said he was "concerned about the nuclear proliferation of the North Koreans," and explained, "I thought it was important that there be an opportunity to talk to them at this very important juncture."

He expressed hope that his visit could "bring back a perspective and at the same time...try to move the North Koreans in the right direction."

But asked whether the North Korean regime is beginning to change under new leader Kim Jong-un, Richardson vacillated: "There are mixed signals...the North Koreans unfortunately launched those missiles at a time that it appeared that the new leader, Kim Jong-un, was opening up."

This story originally appeared at the CBS This Morning site under the headline "Richardson dismisses State Dept. concerns about North Korea trip."