By Justin Sink - 01/04/13 01:40 PM EST
“I’ve been dealing with North Korea for 15 years,” Richardson told CBS News. “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, food aid. I know the North Koreans.”
The former New Mexico governor added that he and Schmidt were "not representing the State Department."
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the State Department said it did not "think the timing of this is particularly helpful" and repeatedly underscored that the Obama administration had not sanctioned the visit.
"They are private citizens,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “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.”
Nuland added that the pair was "well-aware of our views."
Richardson and Schmidt are expected to lobby for the release of Kenneth Bae, a naturalized American citizen born in South Korea who ran a travel company specializing in tours of North Korea. The country's state-run central news agency said last year that Bae had admitted to committing “hostile acts against the republic," according to The New York Times.