Japan, UAE sign nuclear agreement during PM Abe's visit

Japan and the United Arab Emirates inked a nuclear agreement Thursday as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is visiting the country, pushes to sell Japanese nuclear technology overseas.

It is the first bilateral nuclear agreement signed by Japan since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant triggered by the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

"I want to provide Japan's high-level nuclear technology," Abe told reporters.

Although the move was welcomed by Japanese nuclear-related businesses, some critics said it is still premature to export Japan's nuclear power plants when the full facts of the Fukushima disaster are yet to be determined.

The two countries also agreed to enhance cooperation in a wide range of areas, including economic fields, energy security and people-to-people exchanges, according to a joint statement issued after talks between Abe and United Arab Emirates Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai.

Abe also requested the easing of import restrictions on Japanese food products that were imposed after the Fukushima crisis due to radiation concerns, according to a Japanese government official.

The vice president said in response that he would consider further easing of the restrictions as delicious Japanese foods are popular in Dubai, the official said.

The two leaders discussed energy security at a time when Tokyo is hoping that the United Arab Emirates will continue to provide stable supplies of oil to resource-poor Japan after 2018, when a large portion of Japanese companies' oil rights in the country expire.

Tokyo is eager to import energy resources at lower cost as demand for oil and liquefied natural gas has been growing for thermal power generation following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which has left most of the country's nuclear reactors offline due to safety concerns. The yen's weakness has also boosted the cost of fuel imports.

The signing of the nuclear agreement took place amid efforts by Abe, who returned to the premiership last December, to promote exports of Japanese infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, as a key pillar of the government's economic growth strategy.

Japan will also sign a nuclear agreement with Turkey when Abe visits that country on the final leg of a four-nation trip that also took him to Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabia, Abe agreed with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to commence talks aimed at starting negotiations on a bilateral nuclear accord.

Japan has so far signed nuclear agreements with 11 countries, including the United States and Britain, as well as the European Atomic Community.

On Wednesday, Abe agreed with Gen. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to bolster bilateral ties in the fields of energy and national security, a Japanese government official said.

In response to Abe's invitation for him to visit Japan, the crown prince said he would like to meet Abe in Japan next time, according to the official.