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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Wednesday to promote exports of Japan's nuclear infrastructure to the Middle East in an effort to enhance economic ties with the region.
"I want to build...a completely new relationship (with the Middle East)," Abe said in a speech at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, expressing hope to strengthen ties with the region also in the political and security fields.
Abe, who visited Saudi Arabia in April 2007 during his first stint as prime minister, announced the provision of $2.2 billion to promote peace and stability, and enhance cooperation between countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Touching on the continuing civil war in Syria and issues related to Iran's nuclear program, Abe said he "cannot turn a blind eye" to those matters.
Following his trip to Russia, Abe is on the second leg of a four-nation tour through Saturday that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Despite the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in northeastern Japan, Abe said in the speech, "Japan can provide renewable energy and the world's safest technology to generate nuclear power."
Abe, since assuming office last December, has been pushing Japanese infrastructure exports such as nuclear power plants as part of the country's economic growth strategy.
He delivered the speech a day after agreeing with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to launch working-level talks aimed at starting negotiations on a bilateral nuclear pact, according to a Japanese government official.
It came ahead of Abe's expected signing of nuclear pacts with the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, government sources said.
In an apparent move to assuage feelings following Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose's recent remarks critical of Islamic countries, Abe said in the speech that the Japanese technicians that will be dispatched to the Middle Eastern countries will "learn a lot from Islam's spirit of tolerance."
Inose came under fire after an interview in The New York Times on Saturday in which he said in reference to Istanbul, which along with Tokyo and Madrid is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, "But Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes."