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Koreas Agree to Resume Top-Level Military Talks

In a move aimed at decreasing military tension, North and South Korean military officials say generals from the two countries will soon resume talks. The two countries aim to prevent misunderstandings that could spark conflict along the world's most heavily armed border.

Friday's agreement resulted from a meeting between mid-ranking North and South Korean military officials at the border village of Panmunjom. The Demilitarized Zone, which bisects the heavily armed border between the two countries, is where an armistice was signed to halt fighting in the Korean War in 1953.

Moon Song-mok, chief of North Korea policy at the South's Defense Ministry says senior generals from the two sides will soon meet face to face.

Moon says the generals will meet in Panmunjom for two days either later this month or in early March.

North and South Korean naval forces have clashed on several occasions in recent years over fishing disputes in coastal waters. South Korean authorities hope next month's talks will help prevent such clashes, and bring military cooperation up to pace with North-South economic cooperation.

North and South Korean generals have not met since their second round of talks in June 2004. North Korea has postponed a third round of meetings to protest the South's annual military drills with the United States. Pyongyang views the exercises as provocative rehearsals for an invasion of the North.

Nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Washington says its military presence is purely defensive, aimed at deterring North Korea from repeating its 1950 invasion of the South.

The United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been trying for three years to persuade North Korea to abandon its efforts to build nuclear weapons. Washington officials fear that Pyongyang might sell nuclear weapons to terrorist groups or rogue states, or that it might be tempted to use a bomb against the United States.

On Friday, U.S. forces in South Korea formally welcomed a new commander.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace led a ceremony at Seoul's Yongsan base to replace General Leon LaPorte with General Burwell Bell.

General Pace told reporters that the U.S. is able to defeat any North Korean aggression on the peninsula. He said that capability will be maintained, even though the U.S. plans to cut its forces in the South to 25,000 by 2008.