By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States will hold high-level defense talks next week that ate expected to focus on how to strengthen their joint defense posture against North Korea under a new agreement on extending the range of the South's ballistic missiles, officials said Tuesday.
South Korean defense minister Kim Kwan-jin and his counterpart Leon Panetta will meet in Washington on Oct. 24 for the annual Security Consultative Meeting to discuss how to handle threats from North Korea and maintain a close alliance for stability in the region, the ministry said in a release.
This year's meeting will focus on how to prepare a joint defense posture under the revised missile guideline announced earlier this month, which extended the range of Seoul's missiles from 500 kilometers to 800 km, by integrating the major military command system between the two allies, according to ministry officials.
Under the agreement, Seoul will continue to limit the payload to 500 kilograms for ballistic missiles with an 800-kilometer range, but will be able to use heavier payloads for missiles with shorter ranges.
The two sides will also discuss ways to keep their joint defense posture intact even after Seoul retakes wartime operational control (OPCON) over its troops from the U.S. in 2015. The Combined Forces Command, which has served as a control tower of the allies' military partnerships, will be dismantled when Seoul regains OPCON.
Pyongyang warned that the U.S. mainland is within range of its missiles and said the recent agreement that allows Seoul to possess missiles capable of hitting all of North Korea shows the allies are plotting to invade the country.
In April, the North unsuccessfully launched a long-range rocket, which the international community condemned as a disguised test of its missile technology banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The two Koreas are still technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korean aggression.
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