“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.
The U.S. delegation’s visit takes place as the U.S. pushes to punish North Korea for launching a long-range rocket in December.
Pyongyang celebrates the launch as a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space. The U.S. and other critics, however, condemn it as a covert test of long-range missile technology, and are urging the U.N. Security Council to take action against North Korea.
After arriving in Pyongyang on Monday evening, the group met Tuesday with officials at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
Richardson, who has traveled to North Korea several times to negotiate the release of detained Americans, was accompanied by Korea expert Kun “Tony” Namkung. He called it “a good, productive but frank meeting,” but did not divulge further details about the talks. Namkung has worked as a consultant for The Associated Press.
Schmidt, who oversaw Google’s expansion into a global Internet giant, speaks frequently about the importance of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology. Google now has offices in more than 40 countries, including all three of North Korea’s neighbors: Russia, South Korea and China, another country criticized for systematic Internet censorship.
He and Cohen have collaborated on a book about the Internet’s role in shaping society called “The New Digital Age” that comes out in April.
New red banners promoting slogans drawn from Kim’s speech line Pyongyang’s snowy streets, and North Koreans are still cramming to study the lengthy speech. It was the first time in 19 years for North Koreans to hear their leader give a New Year’s Day speech. During the rule of late leader Kim Jong Il, state policy was distributed through North Korea’s three main newspapers.
There was a festive air in Pyongyang for another reason: Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Though Jan. 8 is not recognized as a national holiday, like the birthdays of his father and grandfather, and his official birthdate has not been announced, North Koreans acknowledged that it was their leader’s birthday Tuesday.
Waitresses at the downtown Koryo Hotel dressed up in sparkly traditional Korean dresses and decorated the lobby with balloons.
Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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