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U.S. defense secretary visits S. Korea

SEOUL, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in South Korea Wednesday for the first time for an annual bilateral security meeting.

Panetta will meet with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin at the 43rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on Friday and will also pay a courtesy call to President Lee Myung-bak during his three-day stay.

Later Wednesday, Panetta is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with some U.S. troops stationed in Seoul.

The SCM is an annual meeting between the defense chiefs of the long-time allies and is held alternately between Seoul and Washington. It's the first SCM since Panetta, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), succeeded Robert Gates as the defense secretary in July this year.

The defense ministry here has said the two sides will discuss bolstering their defense cooperation against potential North Korean threats and review preparations for the transfer of wartime operational control from the U.S. to South Korea in 2015.

Panetta is also expected to highlight the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the U.S. He recently said the U.S. will not reduce the number of its troops in Asia, despite looming cuts to its defense budget.

The presence of some 28,500 U.S. soldiers here is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, and leaves the two Koreas technically at war.

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