Eric Clapton has been invited to perform in the secretive state of North Korea, it emerged yesterday.

Rock and pop have been banned in the world's most isolated state because of fears over western influences.

But the legendary English singer and guitarist has been asked to perform in the capital Pyongyang next year, according to the Financial Times.

Diplomats believe the overture shows that the communist state wants to build cultural bridges with the West, even though discussions over its nuclear programmes have stalled.

Clapton, whose hits include 'Cocaine', 'Layla', and 'Tears in Heaven', has agreed in principle to the idea, according to the newspaper.

The request comes as the New York Philharmonic performs in Pyongyang following a request from the country's officials.

The Philharmonic is the first major US cultural group to perform in North Korea, which US President George Bush classed as part of the "axis of evil".

The North Korean State Symphony Orchestra plans to perform in London this summer as part of the orchestra's biggest ever tour, and Clapton has been invited to the country in return.

A North Korean official told the Financial Times: "We want our music to be understood by the western world and we want our people to understand western music."

62-year-old Clapton, nicknamed Slowhand, has been ranked fourth in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame an unprecedented three times as a band member in The Yardbirds and Cream and as a soloist.