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Japan-Iraq relations can and should place greater focus on economic cooperation instead of security, visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Friday, calling for more investment from Japanese firms to help reconstruct his war-torn nation.

“Iraq-Japan relations have entered a new era,” Zebari said in a speech in Tokyo. “The nature of the relations has changed (in the past few years) from military, security and logistics to more business-oriented, economic-oriented areas.”

He made the remarks during a keynote speech in a symposium in Tokyo to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.

The Iraqi minister held talks Friday afternoon with Prime Minister Taro Aso.

In a press conference earlier Friday, Zebari stressed that Iraq has become a much safer place compared with several years ago, with more mature security and intelligence systems.

Zebari expressed his gratitude to Japan for having played an “important role” in helping Iraq reach “the current level of stabilization and development” through government loans, as well as humanitarian assistance from the Self-Defense Forces.

The Ground Self-Defense Force engaged in reconstruction work in Samawah from January 2004 to July 2006, while the Air Self-Defense Force was stationed in Kuwait for an airlift mission from March 2004 to December 2008.

“The worst is over,” Zebari said at the symposium, assuring the audience, which included businesspeople and researchers on the Middle East, that “a sense of national unity” has spread in Iraq, which is overcoming sectarian and ethnic differences between Shiite, Sunni Muslims, Christians and Kurds.

“I encourage Japanese businesses and people to play a greater role in the reconstruction of Iraq,” he said, inviting firms to do business in and help develop the country.

Concerning the scheduled pullout in June of the U.S. military, he said he is confident Iraqi forces can meet “the first test of their readiness and confidence” in undertaking security operations without U.S. troops.

Zebari expressed great concern on the uprising in postelection Iran. “No one is more worried and sad about what is going on in Iran than Iraq,” he said.

“Iran is an immediate neighbor and a powerful neighbor, and what happens there will affect us.”

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