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S. Korea, U.S. set for high-level talks on extended deterrence next week
SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the U.S. will hold next week their first high-level plenary session of a joint committee on ways to boost the deterrence Washington provides to protect Seoul against North Korea's nuclear ambitions and other weapons of mass destruction, officials here said Monday.

   The first high-level meeting of the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, set for March 28-29 in Hawaii, is expected to discuss measures to deal with the North's threats and assess the effectiveness of the extended deterrence, officials said.

   The committee was set up last December after the allies agreed to step up their commitment to deterring North Korea amid high tensions following the North's two military attacks on the South last year.

   "Since it would be the first official meeting with high-level officials, the two sides are expected to set parameters of the committee rather than try to produce a specific agreement," said a senior official at Seoul's defense ministry.

   Working-level officials from the allies have held two rounds of meetings since early this year to set details of the agenda for the first high-level session, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   The term "extended deterrence" is political jargon that refers to a pledge by a nuclear power to defend an ally armed with no atomic weapons.

   Deputy Defense Minister Chang Gwang-il and Michael Schiffer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, will lead the first meeting, according to the official.

   Concerns about the North's nuclear weapons program deepened last November after Pyongyang publicly revealed the existence of a modern uranium enrichment facility, which could give the communist regime a second source of building a nuclear bomb.

   Analysts estimated that North Korea, which conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has enough plutonium to build possibly six to eight small atomic weapons.

   During the two-day talks, South Korea and the U.S. will also hold their annual Security Policy Initiative meeting, where the two sides will discuss a range of alliance issues including a plan to ensure the transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul by 2015.

   South Korea had been scheduled to take over in April 2012 its right to control its armed forces in the event of a war under a 2007 deal with the U.S., but the two sides agreed to delay the transfer by three years after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea.