SEOUL: A trio of Nobel laureates will take part in a “humanitarian” visit to North Korea later this month, even as suspicions grow that Pyongyang is preparing to carry out a fifth nuclear test.
The Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, which is organizing the trip, said Monday it was an exercise in “silent diplomacy” that would focus on such topics as economic policy and medical development.
The three laureates from Norway, Britain and Israel, who won their Nobels for economics, medicine and chemistry, will give speeches and hold seminars with students at some of the North’s elite schools, including Kim Il-Sung University.
“The events will not engage in rhetoric by making political statements,” the foundation said in a press release.
“Listening to and engaging with the young generation of (North Korea) may be a gateway to establish a dialogue which could contribute to a wider understanding beyond politics and power play,” added its founding chairman, Uwe Morawetz, who has visited the North six times over the past two years to prepare the visit.
The trip is likely to be criticized in some quarters at a time when the focus of the international community is on tightening North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation.
The April 29-May 6 dates mean the visit might also coincide with a fresh North Korean nuclear test.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye confirmed Monday that increased activity had been detected at the North’s nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, suggesting an underground detonation could be imminent.
Numerous analysts have predicted Pyongyang may carry out a fifth test just before a rare ruling party congress next month, at which leader Kim Jong-un is expected to take credit for pushing the country’s nuclear weapons program to new heights.
No formal date has been set for the congress, but South Korea’s intelligence agency says it will likely be held May 7.
North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, triggering the most extensive UN sanctions to date aimed at cutting funding sources for its nuclear development.
The Nobel laureates will hold a press conference in Beijing after returning from their visit.