Nuland said it was “correct” to assume that her comment that a trip now would not be “helpful” referred to the Dec. 12 missile launch. The North Korean government claimed at the time that the missile had launched a weather satellite, but South Korean scientists examining recovered fragments concluded the missile was designed to be capable of launching a nuclear warhead.
The US is working with Asian and European allies at the UN to try to stiffen existing international sanctions on North Korea to signal that destabilizing actions like the missile launch won’t go unpunished. From the US perspective, even a private diplomatic mission at this point softens that message.
In an interview Friday with CBS News, Richardson said he was aware of the State Department’s concerns, but he added that since he and Mr. Schmidt would be traveling as private citizens, “they shouldn’t be that nervous.” Richardson did not say exactly when he will travel, though it is expected to be sometime this month.
Explaining why he calls the trip a “humanitarian visit,” Richardson said his primary purpose will be to seek the release of detained Korean-American Kenneth Bae, whose arrest North Korean authorities announced last month.
Richardson said he has maintained contact with the North Koreans during the past 15 years, and he noted that he has “brought back” American “hostages” including members of the US military, and negotiated the return of the remains of US soldiers who perished in the Korean War.