The Times West Virginian

Headline News

January 6, 2013

U.S. irked by Google chief’s North Korea plans

WASHINGTON — Google chief Eric Schmidt’s plan to visit North Korea has put the Obama administration in the awkward position of opposing a champion of Internet freedom who’s decided to engage with one of the most intensely censored countries.

The administration is wary for a reason. It 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.

It was only last month when North Korea launched a long-range rocket in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. While the U.S. and its allies are seeking harsher penalties against the reclusive communist government. That effort is proving difficult because of a resistance from China, a permanent member of the council. Beijing probably worries that its troublesome ally could respond to any new punishment by conducting a nuclear test.

U.S. officials are also concerned that the high-profile visit could confuse American allies in Asia and suggest a shift in U.S. policy as the administration prepares to install a new secretary of state to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama has nominated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.

An imminent change of government in South Korea, a close U.S. friend, is raising questions about whether the two countries can remain in lockstep in their dealings with the North. Newly elected leader Park Geun-hye is expected to seek a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea after she takes up the presidency in February.

This helps to explain why the State Department, which has been a vigorous advocate of social media freedoms around the world, particularly last year during the Arab Spring, made clear it was displeased by the planned “private, humanitarian” visit by Schmidt and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Their trip is expected this month.

“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 Thursday.

Richardson, a seasoned envoy and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday that the State Department should not be nervous. In interviews with CBS and CNN, Richardson said they had been planning to visit in December but postponed the trip at the department’s request because of the presidential election that month in South Korea.

Richardson said he would raise with North Korea the matter of an American detained last month on suspicion of committing unspecified “hostile” acts against the state; the charge could draw a sentence of 10 years of hard labor. He’ll also try to meet with the detainee.

He also said he was concerned about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and this was a “very important juncture” to talk and try to move the North Koreans in the “right direction.”

Schmidt, Richardson said, was traveling as a private citizen. But the trip raises questions about whether Google has plans for North Korea.

Schmidt, the company’s executive chairman, is a staunch advocate of global Internet access and the power of connectivity in lifting people out of poverty and political oppression. There are few countries where the obstacles are as stark. North Koreans need government permission to interact with foreigners — in person, by phone or by email. Only a tiny portion of the elite class is connected to the Internet.

U.S. law restricts American companies’ dealings with North Korea, which is subject to tough penalties because of its nuclear and missile programs. Imports of North Korean goods are prohibited, but travel to North Korea, exports of U.S. goods and investment in the country are allowed, subject to some restrictions, such as on exports of luxury goods.

Richardson has been to North Korea at least a half-dozen times since 1994, including two trips to negotiate the release of detained Americans. His last visit was in 2010.

The detainee, Kenneth Bae, is the fifth American held in North Korea in the past four years. That includes two U.S. journalists who were freed in 2009 after former President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang and met with then-leader Kim Jong Il. Richardson said it was doubtful he and Schmidt would meet with Kim Jong Un, but he expected to talk with officials from the foreign affairs and economic ministries and the military.

North Korea could show good will by freeing Bae. But detainees risk becoming bargaining chips for the North in its tumultuous relationship with Washington. The U.S. retains nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Kim Jong Un’s elevation to leadership after his father’s death a year ago offered some hope of better relations. But after agreeing last February to an offer of U.S. food aid in exchange for nuclear concessions, North Korea derailed the deal weeks later when it attempted to launch a satellite atop a rocket that the U.S. believes was a test of ballistic missile capabilities.

Relations were set back further by the latest launch, this time successful, which the North again insisted was for a purely peaceful space program.

In the past year, Kim has made at least stylistic changes that hint at more openness, leading some commentators to call for a fresh outreach by U.S. diplomats. That’s something that the nominee for secretary of state, Kerry, might support. But there’s still little sign of substantive reform.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • FDA eases into regulating e-cigarettes

    The federal government’s move to regulate e-cigarettes is a leap into the unknown.
    Most everyone agrees a ban on selling them to kids would be a step forward. But health and public policy experts can’t say for certain whether the electronic devices are a good thing or a bad thing overall, whether they help smokers kick the habit or are a gateway to ordinary paper-and-tobacco cigarettes.

    April 25, 2014

  • Gunman kills three Americans at Kabul hospital

    Three Americans — a pediatrician and a father and son — were killed by an Afghan government security officer at a hospital Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks on foreign civilians that has rattled aid workers, contractors and journalists.
    Another American, a female medical worker, was wounded in the attack at Cure International Hospital of Kabul, run by a U.S.-based Christian charity, and the gunman also was wounded, officials said.

    April 25, 2014

  • Fresh Senate voices speak out on foreign policy

    Fresh voices in the U.S. Senate are speaking loudly on foreign policy, a new generation of Republicans and Democrats who reflect a war-weary nation cautious about America’s next moves.
    Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rand Paul of Kentucky stand on either side of the growing divide in the GOP, pitting those who favor more robust U.S. engagement overseas against an isolationist’s deficit-driven concerns about the cost of foreign entanglements.

    April 25, 2014

  • Labor Department cuts levels of allowable coal dust

    The Obama administration said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to help reduce black lung disease.
    “Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Obama offers Japan security, economic assurances

    Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, President Barack Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere.

    April 24, 2014

  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads