Israeli Nobel laureate: North Korea doing better than expected

Israel Hayom
May 8, 2016

Professor Aaron Ciechanover visits Pyongyang as part of an International Peace Foundation delegation, Mission finds North Korea is feeling the crunch of international sanctions; is willing to pursue talks to become a part of the international community.

"The situation in North Korea is much better than I thought it would be. They focus on education and health, and they put an emphasis on the individual," Israeli Nobel laureate for chemistry Professor Aaron Ciechanover told Israel Hayom Saturday.

Ciechanover, alongside Nobel laureate for medicine Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel laureate for economics Professor Finn Kydland, and Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein visited the East Asian isolated country at the invitation of the International Peace Foundation. IPF Chairman Uwe Morawetz headed the weeklong visit, after which the delegation headed to Beijing.

Pyongyang's government hoped the visit would increase collaboration between North Korean scientists and their Western counterparts.

Ciechanover said the small delegation visited several local universities and youth centers and met with North Korean Higher Education Minister Thae Hyong Chol.

"We didn't come to criticize them. We really came to converse and to exchange dialogue with students," he said.

Pyongyang "is feeling the pressure of the international sanctions," Ciechanover said, referring to the sanctions regime that has been imposed on North Korea by the U.N. Security Council since 1993, over the latter's repeated nuclear tests and threats toward South Korea.

"The International Peace Foundation, which acted as mediator, made it clear that they were not interested in making the visit a political one. What we saw was the truth. Some of it was an act, but you can't misrepresent an entire country. We saw that there are no homeless people, and that there is no crime. We didn't see poverty, but there are no cars, no traffic lights, and no banks. The situation there is much better than I imagined it to be, but they are isolated from the rest of the world."

Roberts noted that a lack of modern scientific equipment -- the result of years of U.N. economic sanctions -- and outdated scientific research methods have left North Korean scientists lagging far behind their colleagues worldwide, adding that "the type of scientific diplomacy the delegation engaged in had the potential to be a very powerful tool for diplomacy."

Prince Alfred noted the North Koreans "have a willingness to become a part of the international community. ... They have expressed a desire for negotiations with the outside world, a peace treaty with the United States and an assurance that their country wouldn't be attacked."