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S. Korea, US still in talks over missile defense

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Wednesday that Washington is still in consultations with Seoul over its future role in a regional missile defense system.

"With regards to future missile defense, that's an area we continue to discuss in order to make sure that we have all of the defenses necessary to deal with the missile threat coming fromNorth Korea and whatever steps are necessary to try to make sure that we are prepared for that," Panetta told reporters after talks with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, at the Pentagon.

The secretary was responding to a question about unrelenting speculation that the U.S. is pressing South Korea to play a role in its missile defense in Northeast Asia.

Panetta cited a recent U.S. move to expand its missile defense equipment in Japan, adding Washington will continue to work with its "friends" in the region to improve readiness to counter missile threats.

On the new North Korean leadership, the secretary said the bottom line is the U.S. still has no clear idea of whether young leader Kim Jong-un will follow the policy direction of his late father, Kim Jong-il, or seek a new path.

"The concern we have is that they continue to prepare for missile tests," he said. "They continue to engage in enrichment of uranium against all international rules."

He added, however, the U.S. will keep trying to send a message to Pyongyang that resuming dialogue would be "preferable for them, instead of behaving in a provocative way."

Panetta said he "was relieved" that there had been no military clash between the two Koreas over a move by South Korean activists to send balloons filled with anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

He said the issue was raised in his talks with the South Korean minister.

"(We) have made clear that we're going to continue to watch closely to make sure that those kinds of provocations do not take place and that, in the end, if they do take place, that both South Korea and the United States would be prepared to respond," he said. (Yonhap News)

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