By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — An Atlanta-based nonprofit is planning to bring North Korea's national orchestra to the U.S. for a tour that would start in Atlanta, according to the group's president.
The North Korean National Symphony Orchestra would bring 164 musicians and journalists for an 18-day visit that would also include stops in Oxford, Miss., and New York, said Robert Springs, the president of Global Resource Services, a humanitarian group that works in North Korea.
He said he hopes the visit will take place in the spring but the details are still being worked out and it awaits government approval. Springs has scheduled a press conference on Thursday to release more details about the trip. The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment.
Springs' group has sent three musical groups to North Korea over the last 14 years, including Christian rock group Casting Crowns.
"The hope is that we can better understand the people of North Korea and that they can better understand us," he said. "And that could lead to more normalized relations."
The deal comes amid encouraging signs that ties between the U.S. and North Korea could be warming.
Both nations announced an agreement last month that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities and allow U.N nuclear inspections in exchange for food aid. But Washington said the North's recently announced plans to launch a satellite on a rocket could jeopardize the deal.
A U.S. tour by North Korean musicians would take place four years after the New York Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, in January 2008 — a historic cultural exchange between musicians from two nations that remain enemy states.
Korea was split at the end of World War II into the communist North and the U.S.-backed South. The two sides fought a three-year war that ended in a truce in 1953 but has left the Korean Peninsula divided by a heavily fortified border. The U.S. still has more than 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea.
North Korea has sent a flurry of recent cultural exchanges. The South Korean conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra landed in Pyongyang in February to rehearse with North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra. The Unhasu Orchestra performed a landmark concert with a French orchestra last week in Paris.
Associated Press writer Jean H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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