Source AP ©

NY Philharmonic to perform in North Korea

The representatives of New York Philharmonic are to visit North Korea to discuss the possibility of a history-making performance in the communist nation.

Philharmonic President Zarin Mehta and public relations director Eric Latzky said they planned to explore venues and other arrangements for a potential February concert in the capital, Pyongyang.

"It's a country that none of us have ever dreamed of going to. The next three or four days are going to be very eye-opening for us," Mehta said by telephone Thursday from Beijing.

He and Latzky said they were embarking on the discussions with U.S. government support.

Relations between the United States and North Korea have been tense for years. President George W. Bush once branded the country part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb last October, the U.S. softened its policy to facilitate progress on the North's disarmament.

In July, North Korea shut down its sole operating reactor at Yongbyon, which produced plutonium for weapons. This week, it pledged arms talks with the U.S. and other regional powers to disable its main nuclear facilities and declare all its programs by the year's end. In return, the U.S. has offered to take steps to eventually remove Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terror.

Latzky said orchestra representatives had spoken with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill last month about the potential concert, and he was "very encouraging," The New York Times reported Friday

State Department representatives had no immediate comment early Friday.

North Korea's Ministry of Culture sent the renowned orchestra an invitation in August. The Philharmonic has played in South Korea, as well as in other parts of Asia.