The Associated Press reported last week that Google Executive Chairman and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson were to head to North Korea. Following the report, which was picked up by numerous media outlets, the U.S. State Department expressed its views about the trip in a press briefing.
Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “With regard to the trip, we are obviously aware of the trip that has been announced for Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Governor Richardson. As you know, they are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity. 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, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.”
She went on to say that she doens’t think the timing is helpful, “in light of recent actions by the D.P.R.K.,” in reference to a recent missile launch. She also indicated that Schmidt and Richardson were aware of the Department’s views.
Apparently they were aware, but did not let said views keep them from their plans. The New York Times is reporting today that Schmidt and Richardson have arrived in North Korea, saying that Schmidt is “interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect.”
Additionally, the AP quotes Richardson as saying, “This is not a Google trip…”
Still, that does not mean that Schmidt won’t taken into consideration the things he learns while he is there for future decisions.
Schmidt, as part of his job as Executive Chairman, is the main Google exec who is to meet with governments, even if this is an unofficial company trip. The duo will reportedly meet with “political leaders” in the country.
In the State Department briefing last week, Nuland was asked if she thought i possible for Google to do business in North Korea legally, in light of sanctions. Her response was, “Well, obviously, without knowing what might be planned, et cetera, Google, like all U.S. companies, are subject to the restrictions under U.S. law.”
When asked if she would be happy to see Google help North Korea to expand its Internet access to the global community, she said, “Well, obviously we support Internet freedom around the world. We support the right of all people to have access to the Internet, and we oppose government restrictions on that wherever they are found. That said, all U.S. companies are subject to the U.S. sanctions regime with regard to the D.P.R.K.”