Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former U.S. Ambassor to the United Nations Bill Richardson have arrived in North Korea on a controversial four-day visit.
Richardson, who is also a former governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, spoke to journalists in Beijing on January 7 before leaving for Pyongyang. He said neither he nor Schmidt would be carrying any U.S. government messages to the North.
Richardson, who has negotiated with North Korea in the past on various issues, said one of the goals is to obtain the release of Kenneth Bae, an American guide of Korean descent arrested by North Korea last year.
"This is a private humanitarian mission, not connected to the U.S. government," he said. "We are not representing the U.S. government. The objective is humanitarian and to make an assessment of the economic situation in North Korea, [to discuss] the American detainee.
"I am concerned about the missile launches the North Koreans have moved forward with. We want them to restrain their nuclear weapons. So we are going to make that a case with them. As private citizens, we are not representing the U.S. government."
He said he had been contacted by Bae's son ahead of the trip and would try to gain access to him.
"He wants me to try to bring his father back," Richardson said. "We think that will be difficult. But we are going to try to see him and inquire about his conditions. So that is another humanitarian side of the trip."
The White House has criticized the visit to the reclusive communist nation, saying it comes too soon after Pyongyang's test-launch of a long-range rocket last month.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Richardson said the delegation will meet North Korean political, economic, and military leaders and visit several universities.
The reasons for Schmidt's involvement are not clear.
He is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago.
Richardson said Google's executive chairman wished to gain a first-hand look at the North's economy and social media.
Schmidt, who has overseen Google's global expansion, has been an advocate of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology.
Kim has pushed technology as a path to economic development for his impoverished country, but the country nonetheless retains some of the world's most restrictive Internet laws.
Most North Koreans only have access to a domestic intranet system, not the World Wide Web. Internet use is still strictly regulated and allowed only with official approval.
Members of the delegation, speaking under condition of anonymity, said Schmidt intended to make a donation during the visit. No further details were available.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP