By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt are apparently en route to North Korea, defying the U.S. government's advice not to visit there.
Richardson's office confirmed that he will travel to Pyongyang this week "on a private humanitarian mission."
"The delegation will consist of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt; Dr. KA Namkung, a Korea affairs advisor to Richardson; and Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, as well as some staff members," it said in an emailed press release.
Since no media is accompanying the delegation, it added, Richardson will have a press availability at the Beijing Airport on Thursday (local time).
The office did not elaborate on the group's itinerary.
U.S. government officials and South Korean diplomats in Washington remained tight-lipped about it.
A diplomatic source said the delegation has already arrived in Beijing on its way to Pyongyang.
Given flight schedules between the two cities, the group is expected to fly into North Korea on Monday or Tuesday, the source said.
Richardson, formerly a U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has close personal ties with North Korea and has made several trips there.
He said he would focus on discussing Pyongyang's nuclear program and the issue of a Korean-American man, Kenneth Bae, detained there. Bae, a tour operator, has been detained in the North for more than two months on a charge of unspecified "hostile acts against the republic."
Richardson expressed hope for "positive" results from his upcoming visit.
His plan to travel to Pyongyang this time, however, has drawn keen attention as he will be accompanied by the Google chairman.
"This is not a Google trip. He's interested in foreign policy, he's a friend of mine, and I felt it was important that there be a broader perspective of our visit, with Eric going and some other members of our staff," Richardson told CBS "This Morning" last week.
The U.S. and South Korean governments, however, take a dim view of their move.
Seoul and Washington are worried that it may send a wrong signal to Pyongyang.
The allies are pushing for tougher U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its long-range rocket launch in December.
The State Department has openly said the timing of the visit is not "helpful."
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