Nobel laureates hope 'silent diplomacy' brings change to N. Korea

Yonhap News
May 7, 2016

Organized by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, the three Nobel laureates and Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein visited North Korea for a trip that focused on academic exchanges and economic development. They arrived in Beijing on Friday.

Uwe Morawetz, founding chairman of the foundation, told reporters in Beijing that, "By doing this program, we want to help opening up the DPRK (North Korea) to the world."

"We believe in dialogue, exchange and education as a basis for peace, so it was our hope that this event could be a tool for silent diplomacy to bring about positive change and future mutual understanding," Morawetz said.

Engaging with North Korea's young generation could be a "gateway to establish a dialogue which could contribute to a wider understanding beyond politics and power play," said Morawetz, who was also on the visit.

The visit by the three Nobel laureates from Norway, Israel and Britain -- Finn E. Kydland, Aaron Ciechanover and Richard J. Roberts -- who won their Nobels for economics, chemistry and medicine, respectively, coincided with a rare congress of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party.

North Korea has been under tougher U.N. sanctions over its defiant pursuit of nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions were tightened this year following the North's fourth nuclear test in January and firing of a long-range missile the following month.

Before departing for Pyongyang, Morawetz said he met with the South Korean ambassador to Thailand where the foundation's Asian office is located.

"We have been asked by the South Korean ambassador to postpone our visit until after the party congress, but we have not (been) asked to cancel the visit," Morawetz said.

Asked whether the U.S. government contacted him, Morawetz replied, "We have never been contacted by the U.S. government."

Workshops, seminars and dialogues with students, professors and doctors from different educational institutions were held at Kim Chaek University of Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

When asked about their impression about a possible change in North Korea in the wake of the party congress, which began on Friday, Prince Alfred said the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "has a good understanding of the international situation" and he wants to be "a part of the international community."

Roberts said he witnessed a collaboration between North Korean and Chinese scientists.

Because of international sanctions, Roberts said North Korean scientists can't buy instruments to characterize some chemical components they create.

"So, they are sending samples to China and the Chinese are doing the characterization," Roberts said.