By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States will have working-level defense talks to explore all possible measures to deter growing nuclear threats from North Korea in light of its third atomic test, Seoul's defense ministry said Wednesday.
The Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue, the first such meeting since the North's recent nuclear test, will be held from Thursday to Friday in Washington to discuss ways to step up intelligence efforts and prepare measures to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions and further provocations, the ministry said.
South Korea's Deputy Defense Minister Lim Kwan-bin and his American counterparts, including James Miller, the deputy assistant defense secretary; David Helvey, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia; and Bradley Roberts, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense, will attend the bilateral meeting, it said.
"The two sides will evaluate the North Korean situation following its nuclear test and discuss ways how to cooperate in drafting policies on the North," the ministry said in a release. "The meeting will also discuss the S. Korea-U.S. alliance issues and events to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice and military alliance."
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in the nation as a deterrence against North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a treaty. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice and a mutual military treaty.
Bilateral consultations to come up with a strengthened nuclear deterrence plan have been underway since last year, but Pyongyang's Feb. 12 nuclear test has brought new urgency to prepare a tailored strategy to counter the defiant communist state under its young leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korean military leaders have said they considered destroying the North's nuclear facilities in advance in case of an imminent nuclear attack against South Korea.
The military option, however, is still controversial as some question whether such actions would be able to denuclearize the communist country, which is believed to have built clandestine nuclear reactors in several other places that are guarded by mobile missile launchers.
South Korea's defense ministry estimated the latest nuclear device has a yield of 6-7 kilotons. However, it is largely murky whether Pyongyang made the atomic bomb with plutonium or highly enriched uranium, or whether it is small enough to fit on a long-range missile that can hit the U.S.
South Korea and U.S. have remained on high alert over the past weeks as Pyongyang has issued daily warnings against "hostile" forces. During the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday, Pyongyang's envoy warned of "final destruction" against South Korea and its allies if they continue to push for tougher U.N. resolutions for its nuclear program.
On Wednesday, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) said South Korea and U.S. forces jointly carried out a one-day drill in early February to rehearse key tasks in planning and execution of combined ballistic missile defense.
"We highlighted the successful integration of our combined theater missile defense force," Gen. James Thurman, CFC Command commander, said in a statement. "These drills show the ROK-U.S. Alliance's commitment to provide an enduring and capable defense of the Republic of Korea."
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