Google chairman Eric Schmidt will visit North Korea

January 3, 2013: 8:35 PM ET
eric schmidt north korea
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Google (GOOG) chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, sources told CNN.

Rumblings of the visit first surfaced Wednesday in an AP report but little was known about the intent of the trip. But sources who confirmed the details of the trip to CNN said it is a "private humanitarian visit" and it is not on behalf of the Obama administration.

The sources indicated that they believe Richardson's objective will be to try and negotiate the release of an American prisoner who was captured last month.

The visit comes at an interesting time for both countries: Not just because of North Korea's increased interest in technology, but also because the isolated communist country just completed another round of rocket testing. Some experts believe the rockets have the range to reach the U.S., but North Korea maintains they are only for peaceful space exploration.

Asked about the trip on Thursday, a representative of the U.S. State Department said the trip is ill-timed.

"Frankly we don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "They are well aware of our views."

This isn't the first trip to North Korea for Richardson, who has visited the country numerous times since 1994. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have also traveled to Pyongyang in the past three years, successfully freeing American prisoners in both instances.

New North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed a desire to increase the country's technological and industrial standing in the world. Google has been expanding its presence throughout Asia in recent years but it has run into problems in China due to censorship concerns. It is unclear if Schmidt will meet Kim during his visit.

-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.

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