Trade chief Takashi Fukaya said Wednesday that he will visit Riyadh in mid-January in a bid to resolve the now-stalled negotiations over the renewal of Arabian Oil Co.’s drilling rights in the Khafji oil field in Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry made the decision following two days of talks between Hisamitsu Arai, MITI’s vice minister for international affairs, and his Saudi Arabian counterparts, Fukaya said. The talks in Riyadh, the latest in seven rounds of negotiations between the two sides, ended on Monday with both sides again failing to narrow their differences over Riyadh’s demand that Japan invest in a railway construction project. “There is still a gulf between the two. We made no progress during the meeting,” Fukaya told reporters in Tokyo. During the talks, Saudi Arabia strongly asked Japan to fund its construction of a 1,400-km mining railway, as well as to back a gas project. In response to the invitation from Riyadh earlier this month, Fukaya said he will visit Saudi Arabia for the final stage of negotiations. His visit will take place during the latter part of his January trip through Europe for talks with European ministers and World Trade Organization Secretary General Mike Moore. The trip will last from Jan. 7 though midmonth. “I have no choice but to conclude the negotiations with “yes or no” when I go,” Fukaya said. Asked whether his government will offer an additional economic package to help Arabian Oil win the drilling rights, Fukaya said only that his government would consider what it can do to gain the Saudi Arabia’s consent. When the talks turned to the railway project, Japan again turned down the request, saying the project was too vast for any one Japanese company, let alone the Japanese government. Saudi Arabia also asked the Japanese government to commit to the gas project, but Fukaya said Japan was not in a position to do so. However, he did say that the project would be open to further discussion if it involved some private Japanese firms. “The railway issue is unlikely to be settled,” Fukaya said, adding that the Saudi’s insistence on the project in the latest meeting has moved the negotiations “backward.” Fukaya added that since Tokyo has been developing the negotiations with Riyadh in a positive fashion out of bilateral friendship, the concession talks between Riyadh and Arabian Oil should be taking place in a parallel context. Glass pact nears expiry
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