Nobel laureates call for easing N.Korea sanctions

The Gulf Today
May 8, 2016

BEIJING: Sanctions that have pinched North Korea's health care system should be eased, a group of Nobel laureates said on Saturday, after a rare visit to the nuclear armed state that coincided with its ruling party congress.

"You cannot turn penicillin into a nuclear bomb," Aaron Ciechanover, who won the top prize for chemistry, told a media conference in Beijing a day after returning from the visit.

"You don't pressurise via making people sicker," he said: "That's not the right way to go."

The three prize winners from Norway, Britain and Israel spent a week in the country on a humanitarian trip organisers said would be an exercise in "silent diplomacy."

Their visit came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un opened the country's first ruling party congress since 1980 by hailing its "magnificent and thrilling" nuclear weapons programme.

"Many of the things the doctors would like, the professors would like, they just can't have them because of the embargo," said Richard Roberts, who won the prize for medicine.

The trio of Nobel prize winners, which also includes economics laureate Finn Kydland, visited a children's hospital, science facilities and a farm, among other sights.

The laureates described clean, modern facilities -- a stark contrast to other accounts of the country as brutally impoverished -- and two said they had invited young researchers to work in their labs.

Planning for the trip began more than two years ago after the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation (IPF) received an unsolicited email from the Korean National Peace Committee.

South Korea's government asked the group to postpone the trip when it emerged that it would coincide with the congress, citing fears it could be "misused," IPF chairman Uwe Morawetz said, but scheduling restrictions made it impossible.

North Korea on Saturday organised an unusual media tour of a gleaming modern hospital, apparently seeking to highlight its leaders' love for the people during a major ruling party gathering.

The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital owes everything to the party and to the Kim dynasty which has ruled the country since its creation, according to officials who escorted foreign reporters around the showpiece institution.