Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Japan Prime Minister Taro Aso agreed Monday in Tokyo to boost bilateral cooperation on energy, Foreign Ministry officials said.
Chavez and a delegation of Venezuelan ministers were in Tokyo to sign a broad agreement with Japan to develop oil and gas projects in the Latin American nation -- projects agreed on Monday that the president said were worth $33.5 billion in investments for Venezuela.
They agreed to set up a working team to explore the possibility of developing oil in Venezuela's Orinoco oil belt, as well as liquefied natural gas.
The team will also consider funding for the operations, the officials said.
Japan Primer Taro Aso expressed hope that the Venezuelan president would make efforts to help Japanese firms work smoothly in Venezuela, which possesses some of the world's largest reserves of oil and natural gas, they said.
The delegation is due later on Tuesday in Beijing, where Chavez said he expected to secure another $4 billion of funding for various investments.
Message to Obama
"We have no bias against the current administration. We're simply observing and evaluating now," he told a news conference in Tokyo.
"In the framework of respect, anything is possible: closer ties, including a possible dialogue," Chavez said.
Chavez and Obama are both expected to attend the April 17-19 Americas Summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
"Obama said about 48 hours ago that the 20th century was a century of conflicts, and that the new century should be one of peace. That was a good statement," Chavez said, hastily adding that he and his mentor, Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro, had been making a similar declaration "for ages".
Chavez also welcomed a call by U.S. President Barack Obama for a 21st century free of conflict and nuclear arms in the latest sign he could be looking to reconcile with Washington after a decade of tension.
Not to be upstaged by the United States, Chavez chastised the country for using atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War Two -- an act for which he said Washington owed an apology.
"As far as I know, there's been no apology yet, and it's pending," he said.
But he added: "The fact that the president of the United States -- the biggest power in the world and the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon against another nation -- has called for a nuclear-free world is very encouraging."
Japan is ambivalent about atomic bombs, being the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack in World War Two.
Asked about North Korea's weekend rocket launch carrying satellite Chavez took a cautious stance.
"With respect to this, we share Russia's position of having patience and prudence," he said.