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Sat 28 Apr 2007 09:37 PM

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Japan and Saudi strike economic deal

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he hopes to build a broader economic partnership with the kingdom.

Japan and Saudi Arabia agreed on Saturday to build a broad economic and strategic partnership, saying a "just, comprehensive solution" to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was needed.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Saudi King Abdullah on the first stop of a five-nation Middle East trip aimed at boosting Japan's profile and ensuring stable energy supplies from a region on which it relies for nearly all its crude oil.

The day before Abe's arrival from Washington, where he met President George W. Bush, Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said it had foiled an al Qaeda-linked plot to attack oil facilities, military bases and public figures, arresting 172 people.

"Further development of economic relations is a main driving force towards the development of strategic relations between Saudi Arabia and Japan," the two leaders said in a statement after their meeting.

The Middle East provides some 90% of Japan's crude oil, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for nearly 30%. Japan has said it wants to secure a stable supply of oil in the face of growing competition from China and India.

The two leaders discussed energy security and a proposal that would allow Saudi Arabia to use space in a Japanese oil reserves facility to store its oil.

Officials said the details of this proposal still needed to be worked out.


Japan has long felt it has a special part to play in the Middle East and can establish warmer ties with Arab countries, while Saudi Arabia recently took a role in peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on internationally legitimate resolutions would be the bedrock of stability in the Middle East and eliminate a major source of tension and the threat to international peace and security," the statement said.

Earlier on Saturday, Abe told a seminar of Saudi and Japanese business leaders that ties between their two nations should be stronger and broader.

"I want to build a new relationship for Japan in the Middle East, and for that a stronger relationship with Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Gulf, is essential," he said.

A delegation of about 170 Japanese business leaders from a broad range of firms, not only the oil industry, has accompanied Abe to the Middle East.

Officials said earlier this week Japan aims to conclude a free trade agreement with six Middle Eastern oil-producing nations, including Saudi Arabia, by 2008, and that Japanese Trade Minister Akira Anmari would be in Saudi Arabia from May 1.

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