ABU DHABI (AFP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates on Sunday on the first such visit by a Japanese premier in almost three decades, with business high on the agenda.
He arrived from Saudi Arabia, where he and King Abdullah agreed to forge “multi-layered” ties and both men urged Iran to take a constructive approach to resolve the crisis over its nuclear ambitions.
Abe, who paid his first official visit to the United States for a summit with President George W. Bush on Friday, is also due to visit Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar during his five-day tour.
Japan’s first leader to be born after World War II met the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, at Al-Mushrif palace after visiting the grave of former president Sheikh Zayed upon his arrival, Japanese officials said.
Details of their talks were not immediately available.
Local media said Abe was expected to view first-hand the UAE’s efforts to become a regional business, services and tourism hub.
“He (Abe) will acquaint himself with the progress of the UAE’s huge development projects,” a government official told the Emirates Today newspaper.
The booming emirate of Dubai, one of seven in the UAE, is currently constructing what it says will be the world’s tallest tower.
Abe’s visit to the oil-rich nation is the first by a Japanese premier since Takeo Fukuda in 1978. The emirate of Abu Dhabi sits on most of the UAE’s oil and gas reserves, ranked fifth and fourth in the world respectively.
The Japanese premier will also hold talks with the crown prince, Sheikh Mohammad, and address a seminar that will include the 180-strong delegation of Japanese businessmen travelling with him.
Abe and the UAE president are expected to announce a plan for regular contacts between the foreign ministers of both countries, while Abe will invite the king and crown prince to visit Japan, sources said.
They are also expected to affirm efforts to reach a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council as soon as possible, the sources said.
Japan and the six oil-rich GCC nations — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — began free trade talks last year with the intention of concluding an accord in 2008.
Later on Sunday, Abe will meet personnel serving with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force based in the UAE for an Indian Ocean mission providing fuel and logistical support to US-led forces in Afghanistan.
The mission, which was extended by a year last October, is designed to contribute to the “war on terrorism” launched by US President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
In Riyadh, Abe and King Abdullah agreed to form a “multi-layered” partnership with the region covering not only energy security but also political, business and cultural links.
“My purpose of a visit to the Middle East… is to form a multi-layered relationship,” the Japanese premier said.
On the regional diplomatic front, Abe and the king jointly urged Iran to follow UN sanctions and cooperate constructively with the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Japanese official said.
They also agreed to cooperate over reconstruction in Iraq, and called on the war-torn nation to “promote national unity and equality” among all Iraqis, according to a joint statement.
Japan is increasingly concerned by potential threats to its energy supply. It has virtually no oil or gas reserves of its own, and relies for more than 70 percent of its oil supply on the four Gulf states Abe is due to visit.
This is the second trip to the Middle East by a Japanese premier in less than a year. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, travelled to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan last July.