Japan and Uzbekistan agreed Wednesday to strengthen their strategic bilateral partnership in a wide range of fields, including the development of natural resources such as uranium and rare metals.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the prime minister’s office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, where he stressed the importance of Uzbekistan to Japan.

“Uzbekistan . . . is geopolitically a very important country to Japan, and at the same time it is a strategically important partner from the viewpoint of energy and resources,” Kan told Karimov at their summit. “I hope that your visit will be an opportunity to elevate bilateral ties to a higher level.”

The two leaders signed a joint statement covering cooperation in political, economic and international areas, including an agreement to facilitate the participation of Japanese companies interested in mineral resource extraction.

Kan and Karimov also recognized that “the promotion of diversified cooperation by the two countries in the future in the field of uranium resource development for peaceful purposes in the Republic of Uzbekistan is mutually beneficial,” the statement said.

Strengthening cooperation with Uzbekistan is especially important for resource-poor Japan. Uzbekistan is rich in natural resources, including uranium, natural gas, rare metals and gold. It was the seventh-largest producer of uranium in 2009 and ranked 11th for the amount of buried rare metals.

Kan and Karimov also confirmed the need to improve the business environment, including procedures for imports and exports.

Uzbekistan also expressed hope for the “further expansion of Japanese investment and the further deepening of the business relationship between the two countries.”

Japan established diplomatic ties with Uzbekistan in 1992.

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