N.Korea 'Encouraged' by Park's Overtures

North Korea is "sincerely" interested in improving ties with Washington and "encouraged" by South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye's offer of a summit, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said Thursday.

Richardson was speaking in Beijing after a visit to Pyongyang alongside Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

Park during her election campaign pledged take a more active approach to dialogue with North Korea than the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt (center) is surrounded by reporters on arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport after his visit to North Korea. /AFP-Yonhap Google chairman Eric Schmidt (center) is surrounded by reporters on arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport after his visit to North Korea. /AFP-Yonhap

Richardson said "dialogue rather than conflict" is needed at this time of leadership changes in South Korea and Japan. He urged North Korea to halt its missile and nuclear programs when he met Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and other officials.

But the group failed to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen who has been detained in the North on spying charges.

Schmidt said the trip, which has been criticized by the U.S. administration, was a private humanitarian mission. He added that he went to express his view that North Korea will be better off with more cell phones and wider Internet use. The North Korean regime "has to do something. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet," he said.

The Internet is severely restricted in North Korea. "It's their choice now, and time, in my view, for them to start or they will remain behind," Schmidt added.

Schmidt and Richardson were part of a nine-member group who arrived in North Korea on Monday.

Photos from Pyongyang showed Schmidt browsing a computer lab at Kim Il-sung University and watching a North Korean student do an Internet search. The group returned to the U.S. after stopping over in Beijing on Thursday.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 11, 2013 09:29 KST