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
  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Everest avalanche kills at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak. Several more were injured.

    April 19, 2014

  • Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.

    April 19, 2014

  • Clinton to Obama: Many parallels

    Thousands of pages of documents from President Bill Clinton’s White House affirm a longtime adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    As Clinton prepared for an August 1994 news conference in which he hoped to build public support for his struggling — and ultimately unsuccessful — health care overhaul, he told his advisers: “A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it.”

    April 19, 2014

  • Obama voices skepticism on Russia in Ukraine

    President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn’t make good on its commitments.

    April 18, 2014

  • President defending health-care law good for some Democrats

    President Barack Obama’s full-throated defense of his health-care overhaul seems perfectly timed for Democrats who want their party to embrace the law more enthusiastically.
    At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama noted that health insurance enrollments under the new law are higher than expected, and costs are lower.

    April 18, 2014

  • Deal reached on calming Ukraine tensions — for now

    In a surprise accord, Ukraine and Russia agreed Thursday on tentative steps to halt violence and calm tensions along their shared border after more than a month of Cold War-style military posturing triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

    April 18, 2014

  • Boston Marathon organizers confident of safe race

    The arrest of a man with a rice cooker in his backpack near the Boston Marathon finish line led police to step up patrols Wednesday, while organizers sought to assure the city and runners of a safe race next week.
    The actions of the man, whose mother said he had a mental disorder, rattled nerves as Boston prepared for the annual race, but authorities said they did not consider it a security breach.

    April 17, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Solemn tributes mark Boston Marathon bombing anniversary

    Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes that combined sorrow over the loss of innocent victims with pride over the city’s resilience in the face of a terror attack.

    April 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads