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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

57.72 billion yen in Iraq loans unveiled


Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday unveiled fresh yen loans worth up to 57.72 billion yen to Iraq, renewing Japan's commitment to rebuilding the war-torn country in talks with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Tokyo.

At the outset of the meeting, Abe told al-Maliki that stabilizing Iraq is indispensable for the interests of both the Middle East and Japan, which relies on the region for 90 percent of its oil imports.

Abe emphasized that Tokyo fully supports al-Maliki's administration.

"We don't think there is any leader who can take place of Mr. Maliki," Abe said.

In response, al-Maliki expressed thanks for Japan's assistance, saying he recognizes it as part of long-term partnership between the two countries, according to the government official who briefed reporters.

Al-Maliki arrived Sunday for a four-day visit.

Japan and Iraq also signed formal documents finalizing 102.8 billion yen in previously announced Japanese loan programs, including a 50 billion yen project to repair oil export facilities in Basra, southern Iraq.

The loans are part of the $5 billion in official development assistance Japan has pledged for Iraq's reconstruction.

Foreign Ministry officials pointed to Iraq's strategic importance to Japan, noting the country harbors the world's third-largest amount of oil reserves. The war-ravaged country boasts 115 billion barrels of reserves, accounting for 9.7 percent of the world's total.

Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma held talks with al-Maliki and explained Tokyo's plan to extend by two years the Air Self-Defense Force mission supporting Iraq's reconstruction.

The ASDF unit is ferrying supplies between Baghdad and Kuwait, where it is based.

Al-Maliki said he has "highly appreciated" the Self-Defense Forces' activities and repeated his hope that Japanese businesses will come back and resume operations in his country soon, according to Defense Ministry officials.

However, security concerns remain the major obstacle to restarting business in Iraq.



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