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2ND LD: Abe promises al-Maliki continued Japan support for Iraq+
[April 09, 2007]

2ND LD: Abe promises al-Maliki continued Japan support for Iraq+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) TOKYO, April 9_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: UPDATING WITH MORE DETAILS)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday promised visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Japan will continue to support reconstruction efforts in Iraq and the two leaders agreed to further build a "long-term strategic partnership" to strengthen political and economic ties.

"Stability in your country is essential for the stability of the Middle East region, is extremely important for the world as a whole and is linked to Japan's national interests," Abe told al-Maliki at the outset of their talks. "We would like to continue to fully support your efforts as prime minister."

In response, al-Maliki described Japan's assistance as a symbol of bilateral friendship and said, "Iraq is in a new era and facing a lot of new challenges, but we would like to overcome the difficulties in order to realize to the fullest the potential that our country possesses."

In the 40-minute meeting, Abe urged al-Maliki, as he did when Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi visited Japan last month, to continue making efforts to promote national reconciliation in Iraq to stabilize the security situation there, Abe's spokesman Hiroshige Seko said.

The two leaders also agreed on a new provision of a maximum of 57.7 billion yen worth of yen loans by Japan, approximately $510 million, to support waterworks projects in Basra and reconstruction of power supplies in Kurdish areas, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said.

Amid continuing sectarian violence in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis, Japan is keen on fostering trust and peace through the leadership of al-Maliki, a Shiite, and al-Hashimi, a Sunni.

Regarding economic relations, al-Maliki said that while security in some areas in Iraq remains a problem, he hopes for the early resumption of investments by Japanese businesses in Iraq in the safer areas, Seko said.

On international affairs, al-Maliki responded to Abe's request and expressed Iraq's support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, as well as for a nonpermanent two-year term beginning 2009, according to Seko.

Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, like Abe, assured al-Maliki that Japan will continue assisting in Iraq's reconstruction efforts such as extending for two years its troops' airlift support to U.N. and multinational forces, Japanese officials said.

Al-Maliki told Kyuma that Iraq highly values Japan's aid activities, including the deployment of the Ground Self-Defense Force in the southern Iraqi province of Muthana until July last year and the ongoing Air Self-Defense Force's airlifting of supplies and personnel between Kuwait and Iraq.

Al-Maliki, who is in Japan on a four-day visit from Sunday, agreed with Kyuma that the security situation in the Baghdad area still needs improvement.

At the same time, he asked Tokyo to allow Japanese businesses to return to Iraq, noting the security situation in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq and the southern part of his country is "relatively stable."

Kyuma said in response that he hopes Japan's private sector will be able to resume activities in stable regions in Iraq such as Irbil, north of Baghdad, one of the places to which the ASDF troops are conducting airlifts, according to the officials.

Kyuma explained that the Japanese government has submitted a bill to the Diet for extending for two years through July 31, 2009 a special law allowing the ASDF deployment in Iraq to provide airlift support for U.N. and multinational forces, and al-Maliki said Iraq welcomes such a move, the officials said.

Al-Maliki also met separately with Foreign Minister Taro Aso the same day.

Japan views building a strategic partnership with Iraq as important as Iraq's oil supply and its stability greatly affects the national interests of Japan, which is heavily dependent on energy resources from the Middle East.

Japan was among the staunchest supporters of the United States, its closest ally, in the war in Iraq, sending ground troops on an aid mission to southern Iraq and air troops to operate between Kuwait and Iraq. It has also provided financial support to Iraq in the form of yen loans and debt relief.

Amid withdrawals by other countries that sent forces to Iraq, Tokyo pulled out ground troops from the southern Iraqi city of Samawah last summer but has since expanded the air operations.

Copyright 2007 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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