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US pours cold water on Google chief's plan to vist North Korea

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By Noel Young | Correspondent

January 5, 2013 | 3 min read

You might expect than anything defusing tension between North Korea and the rest of the world would be good news - but that's not what Google chief Eric Schmidt has found.

SCHMIDT: Googling North Korea?

His plan to visit visit one of the world's most heavily censored countries has reportedly upset the Obama administration.

The State Department, long a backer of social media freedoms around the world. is displeased by the planned "private, humanitarian" visit by Schmidt and former New Mexico Governot Bill Richardson planned for next month.

Richardson has been to North Korea at least a half-dozen times since 1994, including two trips to negotiate the release of detained Americans. But what is Schmidt's plan? Could he have in mind eventually opening North Korea to Google and the Internet?

Tough job. North Koreans need government permission to interact with foreigners—in person, by phone or by email. Only a few members of the country's elite are connected to the Internet.

The US, "fears that Schmidt's trip could give a boost to North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, just when Washington is trying to pressure him." said the San Jose Mercury News in an AP report.

Schmidt's high-profile visit could it is thought "confuse American allies in Asia and suggest a shift in U.S. policy which is not the case."

"We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful and they are well aware of our views," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN they had postponed the trip from December at the department's request because of the presidential election in South Korea.

Richardson said he would raise with North Korea the case of an American, Kenneth Bae, detained last month on suspicion of committing unspecified "hostile" acts against the state

Schmidt, Richardson said, was traveling as a private citizen.

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