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Panetta says missile talks with Korea making progress

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed optimism Thursday over talks with South Korea on its push to develop greater ballistic missile capability.

"I think we are making good progress," he said during a joint press conference with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan also joined in, describing the outcome of their one-day talks here.

The meeting marked the second "two-plus-two" session of the top diplomats and defense officials from the allies. The first one was held two years ago in Seoul.

Panetta said he hopes for a conclusion to one of the most sensitive issues between the two sides.

Seoul can't possess ballistic missiles with the range of more than 300 km (186 miles) and a payload heavier than 500 kg (1,102 pounds) under a 2001 agreement with Washington.

South Korea's conservatives have been calling for an extension of the range to cover all of North Korea and reduce the missile gap between the two, still technically at war.

But South Korea's defense minister, Kim, said the missile range issue was "not raised as agenda."

"Since working-level consultations are under way on this matter, it was not raised in today's talks," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said earlier this week that he would not take issue with South Korea's development of longer-range missiles if they are deployed in a "defense and non-threatening" way and at Seoul's own expense.  (Yonhap News)