SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Google Inc’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, one of the highest-profile leaders of the U.S. technology industry, will travel to North Korea this year, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
Schmidt’s visit, which the AP said may take place as soon as this month, comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called this week for an end to confrontation with South Korea, with which the country is technically still at war.
Google did not directly respond to a question about whether Schmidt was going to North Korea, though a spokeswoman’s response suggested a visit would not be for company business.
“We do not comment on personal travel,” spokeswoman Samantha Smith said when asked about the AP report. Schmidt is Google’s main political and government relations representative, and has also been a prominent supporter of President Barack Obama.
Google famously espouses a “do no evil” philosophy and publicly urges Internet freedom. It pulled its search service from China in 2010, relocating it to Hong Kong because it said it could not conform with Beijing’s censorship requirements.
Kim’s New Year’s address was the first in 19 years by a leader of North Korea, a reclusive state that has no diplomatic ties with the United States.
But analysts say the comments from Kim - who came to power in 2011 after the death of his father did not necessarily signal a substantial policy shift as Pyongyang has extended olive branches to its far wealthier neighbor in the past.
The AP cited two people familiar with Schmidt’s plans as saying the ex-Google CEO will join a private group led by former United Nations Ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a frequent visitor to North Korea.
It was unclear whom Schmidt will meet or what his agenda might be, the AP reported. Internet access is highly restricted even in Pyongyang, the capital.
Impoverished North Korea raised tensions in the region last month by launching a long-range rocket it said was aimed at putting a satellite in orbit, drawing international condemnation.
North Korea, which considers the North and South one country and regularly vilifies the United States, is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests.
Google is a major partner with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics via its Android mobile software.