Iraqi and U.S. forces have stepped up joint patrols in Baghdad as part of a new security crackdown to stem sectarian and insurgent violence in the city. Troops set up new checkpoints across the city and started search and clearing operations Wednesday, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the official beginning of the new security plan. Meanwhile, a U.S. military official (Lt. Col. Christopher Garver) told Reuters news agency the plan to close Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran went into effect late Wednesday.
KOREA-TALKS: North and South Korea have agreed to resume ministerial
-level talks that were suspended seven months ago after North Korea conducted missile tests. South Korean officials say the talks will take place in Pyongyang from February 27th to March 2nd. The two sides met today (Thursday) in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, following Pyongyang's agreement Tuesday to close its main nuclear complex within 60 days in exchange for fuel aid and other incentives.
JAPAN-CHINA: Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is in Japan to lay the groundwork for a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Li is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the country's foreign minister (Tara Aso) on Friday as part of ongoing efforts to ease tensions between the two nations. Li's arrival in Tokyo today (Thursday) marks the highest-level visit by a Chinese official since the countries began mending ties last year.
SOKOR-US-TRADE: The United States says it made good progress in talks with South Korea this week in long-running negotiations on a free trade agreement. The chief U.S. negotiator, Wendy Cutler, said today (Thursday) that in her view, the seventh, and most recent, round of discussions was the most successful so far. She said that while she has no major breakthrough to announce, there is now a clear path forward.
THAILAND-POLITICS: Thailand's army-installed government says it has appointed a one-time aide to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to head a new economic commission. Officials say Somkid Jatusripitak will be responsible for explaining Thailand's new economic policy, but will have no power to shape it. A government official says Somkid's commission would clarify what it calls its "sufficiency economy" to international investors, the media and educational institutions.
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