Trade on agenda of talks between Swedish and Iraqi premiers

Stockholm - Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met Friday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a day after a UN- Iraq conference on Iraq's efforts to improve security, human rights and economic development.

Echoing the declaration adopted by almost 100 countries at Thursday's follow-up meeting on the International Compact for Iraq (ICI) launched a year ago, Reinfeldt said "notable progress has been made."

During their talks, the two premiers also discussed the need for investments and trade, they told a joint news conference.

Reinfeldt said there were "close ties" between the two countries despite the geographical distance between them, noting that "1 per cent of the Swedish population (of 9 million) is of Iraqi origin."

Iraqi refugees were welcome to return to Iraq, al-Maliki said, adding that his government "has a clear strategy to which funds have been earmarked for the voluntary return" of those who fled.

During the UN-Iraq conference, Baghdad said it had allocated 195 million dollars for refugees and displaced persons.

Al-Maliki said Iraq needed technology and equipment for its agriculture sector, transport and hospital construction, saying these were potential business opportunities for blue-chip companies like Volvo and Scania as well as Swedish construction firms.

Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling, who met members of the Iraqi delegation, said she planned to visit Iraq with a trade delegation later this year.

Asked about the sizeable number of refugees from Christian minority groups, al-Maliki underlined his government's aim to be inclusive and protect all groups "regardless of sectarian affiliation." (dpa)