Google chairman Eric Schmidt is to visit North Korea as part of a humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. A diplomat in Seoul on Thursday said Schmidt will visit this weekend or next week "in a personal capacity."
Schmidt planned to visit North Korea last year, but the visit was postponed due to North Korea's rocket launch late in December.
The Obama administration tried to dissuade Schmidt because sanctions against the North were being discussed following the rocket launch but recently approved his plan.
Schmidt is the highest-profile American business executive to visit the reclusive country in many years, AP reported.
The South Korean government believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un invited Schmidt in order to change the image of his country and to persuade the U.S. to start dialogue.
A government official here said, "By inviting the chairman of Google, which is the world's most open and innovative company, Kim probably wants to emphasize that his country isn't isolated and express his hope to engage in dialogue with the U.S."
Kim, who is fluent in English thanks to his education in Switzerland, may meet Schmidt in person. The South Korean official said, "In North Korea, use of the Internet is highly restricted, and Schmidt's visit alone won't change that."
There is speculation that the purpose of Richardson's visit is to negotiate the release of Korean-American Kenneth Bae, who has been held there since the end of last year accused of spying.
Richardson, who also served as U.S. ambassador to the UN, has made numerous trips to North Korea since 1994 and has experience of negotiating the release of U.S. citizens detained there. Tony Namkung, an expert on North Korea and advisor to Richardson, is credited with arranging this visit.