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January 2, 2013 at 2:07 PM

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North Korean visit by Bill Richardson, Eric Schmidt and Lynnwood man's imprisonment

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is leading a private tour to North Korea as early as this month,The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The delegation for the "humanitarian" mission will include Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, whom the AP reports may be interested in exploring North Korea's strict Internet policies.

This is timely news considering Kenneth Bae, 44, of Lynnwood, is currently being detained for "hostile acts" toward that reclusive regime.

The U.S. does not have official relations with North Korea. This week, State Department staff confirmed Swedish officials are offering consulate assistance on the ground in Pyongyang. Little else is known.

Here's what we wrote in today's Seattle Times editorial:

U.S. officials must continue working the limited diplomatic channels available to them to find out what really happened after Bae led a group of tourists into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in November.

The idea of a Washington citizen languishing in one of the secretive, communist regime’s prisons is disturbing. Tensions surrounding North Korea were already high after the country launched a satellite into orbit Dec. 12, signaling its intent to move forward with a missile program.

Richardson and Schmidt have considerable clout. The former is an expert negotiator with hostile regimes, too.

From the AP report:

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who often serves as an envoy to countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States, will try to meet with North Korean officials, and possibly Bae, to discuss the case, the sources said.

Richardson has been to North Korea at least a half-dozen times since 1994, including two trips to negotiate the release of Americans detained by North Korea. His last visit to Pyongyang was in 2010.

Since 2009, North Korea has detained four other Americans. Diplomacy — including visits from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — played an exceptional role in their release.

Let's hope this private, humanitarian tour with high-level American figures complements the U.S. State Department's current efforts to determine what exactly happened to Kenneth Bae.

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