• Kyodo

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Japan will extend up to ¥32.7 billion ($300 million) in low-interest loans to Iraq to assist the country’s plan to upgrade one of its oil refineries, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, on Saturday.

Motegi made the pledge during an unannounced trip to Baghdad, the first visit to Iraq by a Japanese foreign minister since Taro Aso in August 2006.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry said a meeting has been set for Sunday between Motegi and new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, an anti-U.S. conservative hard-liner who took office this month, in Tehran.

The meeting comes as Iran faces a deadlock in nuclear talks with the United States and Europe. Japan has built a friendly relationship with Tehran while also being allied with Washington.

Besides Hussein, Motegi held separate talks in Baghdad with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and the two sides agreed to step up cooperation in ensuring peace and stability in the Middle East country.

The Foreign Ministry did not announce Motegi’s visit to Iraq — which came as part of his Middle East tour — due to safety reasons.

The originally itinerary said he would fly from Istanbul straight to Tehran on Saturday morning.

The financial aid will be used to expand one of Iraq’s major refineries in Basra, southern Iraq, as part of efforts to rebuild the economy, according to the ministry.

Motegi and Hussein also discussed regional issues including the crisis in Afghanistan, as well as ways to expand business ties between Japan and Iraq, the ministry said.

Prior to the trip to Iraq, Motegi visited Egypt, the West Bank, Israel, Jordan and Turkey.

During the visit to Iran, he will also meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Hossein Amir Abdollahian, a former deputy foreign minister who is set to succeed Zarif under the Raisi administration.

Raisi has called for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran, which have been strengthened since 2018 when President Donald Trump’s administration pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

After Iran, Motegi will travel to Qatar before returning home on Tuesday.

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