State Department: Timing of Google exec's trip to North Korea not 'helpful'

The White House criticized the rocket launch last month and cautioned that North Korea would face consequences for the move, adding pressure to the two countries' already strained relationship. 

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During the press briefing, Nuland said the former governor and Google executive are traveling in an "unofficial capacity" and will not be accompanied by any U.S. officials. She added that the two are "well aware" of the department's views on their trip and declined to comment further on whether they contacted the department about their travel plans.

Richardson will try to meet with North Korean officials to discuss the recent arrest of a U.S. citizen of Korean descent during the trip, the AP said. However, the report said it's still unclear who Schmidt and Richardson will meet with once they're in the traditionally closed-off country.

When responding to a reporter's question about the U.S. citizen's arrest, Nuland said Schmidt and Richardson are not traveling on the State Department's behalf and they will not carry any messages from the U.S. government. The department has been in contact with the North Korean government about the arrest via the embassy of Sweden because the U.S. does not have an embassy there, she said.

"Due to privacy considerations I can't go into it any more, but we are obviously quite active on this case," Nuland said.

The U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations with one another.

Google has generally advocated for policies that support an open and free Internet, while North Korea is known to block its citizens' access to certain parts of the Web. When asked if the State Department would support Google if it expanded North Korean's access to the rest of the Web, Nuland said the U.S. government supports Internet freedom worldwide. 

"We support the right of all people to have access to the Internet, and we oppose government restrictions on that wherever they are found," she said.

However, Nuland noted that Google, like all U.S. companies, is subject to U.S. sanctions with regards to North Korea.