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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.

Some conservatives in the United States have had harsh criticism of the Schmidt-Richardson trip.

Schmidt and Richardson “have joined the long list of Americans and others used by the Kim family dictatorship for political advantage,” John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, wrote in the New York Daily News.

North Korea has repeatedly welcomed prominent Americans to help elevate its stature. It is seeking direct negotiations with Washington, for in the distorted vision of the nation’s leadership, this might lead to full diplomatic recognition and `equal’ status in the world community.”

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Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul at http://www.twitter.com/newsjean.