Also on the team are Joel Wit, a former state department official, and Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, where the US atomic bomb was developed.

 

Dismantling programme

 

Andy Fisher, Lugar's spokesman, said the meeting with North Korean officials will be focused on a US-developed programme for dismantling Cold War-era weapons of mass destruction which Pyongyang was interested in.

 

On Wednesday Lugar, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the programme which he co-founded could be applied to the North.

 

North Korea has begun disabling its main nuclear facilities under a a six-nation aid for disarmament agreement with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US.

Talks stalled after the US said North Korea had missed an end of 2007 deadline to produce a complete list of its nuclear programmes, which Pyongyang said it had already done in November.

 

Historic concert

 

The New York Philharmonic's historic concert in North Korea for scheduled on February 26 marks the first such cultural visit since the split of the Korean peninsula in 1948.

 

The 106-member orchestra is due to leave on Thursday for a three-week Asian tour including a two-day stop in Pyongyang which some see as a musical opening to a potential thaw in US-North Korea relations.

 

Critics however say the Philharmonic's visit may be seen as offering legitimacy to a communist government accused of torturing and starving its people.