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Iraqi Foreign Minister in Beijing to Discuss Sino-Iraqi Relations

The Iraqi foreign minister is in China to strengthen bilateral relations. China is also hosting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is expected to sign an energy deal with Chinese leaders.

During his four-day visit, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will meet Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Thursday the two countries will discuss bilateral relations over the next few days. Mr. Liu said the countries enjoy strong ties and will study Iraq's post-war reconstruction.

The ministry spokesman also said trade between China and Iraq has reached $400 million this year.

China criticized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but it has moved quickly to restore ties with the U.S.-installed interim Iraqi government.

Beijing reopened its Baghdad embassy in July and last month offered more than $1 million to support Iraq's January 30th presidential elections.

Earlier this month China welcomed the head of Iraq's oil ministry to Beijing. Chinese officials said then that Beijing hopes to strengthen energy cooperation with Iraq.

China faces a significant energy shortfall and improving access to world oil supplies is a key foreign policy objective for Beijing. China is using its economic power and diplomatic capital to strengthen ties with oil-exporting nations.

The Iraqi minister's visit to China coincides with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's arrival in Beijing.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a member of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Mr. Chavez is expected to sign an energy deal with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Under the agreement, Venezuela would build a fuel processing plant in China. In exchange, Beijing would provide agricultural assistance and help start a new state-run telecommunications company in Venezuela.

The two countries are also discussing a possible joint venture to develop an untapped Venezuelan oil field.