A North Korean economic delegation that has been visiting the U.S. since March 21 toured the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California on Friday. Google, with its massively successful search engines, is one of the leading U.S. IT companies.
The 12-member delegation arrived at Google's headquarters at around 10 a.m. The 1-hour-40-minute tour was not open to media coverage. Afterwards the North Koreans moved on to Stanford University, which has a cooperative relationship with Google, and apparently attended a lunch seminar with staffers from other IT companies in Silicon Valley.
Neither the U.S. nor North Korea announced the meeting between officials from the world's most isolated country and businesses that stress free and open communication. Who proposed the tour is not known.
Private U.S. groups frequently offer corporate tours to visiting North Korean officials to give them a taste of capitalism. The Asia Foundation, which invited the North Koreans, may have included the visit to Google.
A Foreign Ministry official said, "It appears that U.S. officials may have arranged the visit to Google in order to show the North Koreans the level of U.S. technology and influence. Though it's unlikely that North Korea will open up to the outside world immediately, it could help shift the mindset of the regime over the long term."
The delegation apparently consisted of mid-ranking officials, who visited New York, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco from March 21 until Sunday. They also toured Qualcomm, Bloomberg News, Bloomingdale's department store and Citigroup.
The U.S. government has banned high-ranking North Korean officials including Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan and Ri Gun, director-general of the U.S. affairs bureau at the North's Foreign Ministry but permits visits from mid-ranking North Korean officials at the invitation of private U.S. groups for economic, cultural and educational purposes.
Meanwhile, Choe Tae-bok, the chairman of the North's Supreme People's Assembly, visited the United Kingdom for four days starting on March 28 to ask for food aid. Choe met a British parliamentarian and received a DVD of the South Korean documentary "I Give You Peace," which depicts the life of a South Korean doctor-turned-Catholic missionary who devoted his life to people in Sudan until he died of a cancer last year. A Foreign Ministry official said, "I don't know what significance the DVD had, but they probably gave it to him without realizing that it's illegal in North Korea to possess South Korean DVDs."