Cheney thanks Japanese leader for hostage stand

Vice president promises `assistance' during visit

April 13, 2004|By Doyle McManus | Doyle McManus,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TOKYO - Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that the United States is doing "everything we can" to help secure the release of three Japanese civilians held hostage in Iraq, and warned that insurgents may seize even more captives as the June 30 target approaches for the launch of a new Iraqi government.

Cheney, who is visiting Tokyo on the first stop of a weeklong trip to East Asia, praised Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for rejecting the kidnappers' demand that Japan withdraw its troops from Iraq.

"We wholeheartedly support the position the prime minister has taken with respect to the question of the Japanese hostages," Cheney said. "[We] have consulted closely with the prime minister and his government to make certain we do everything we can to be of assistance."

The discussion of the hostage crisis, which overshadowed the beginning of Cheney's trip, underscored the high political stakes. The kidnappers demanded that Japan withdraw its roughly 550 noncombat troops from Iraq by last Sunday, and threatened to burn the hostages if the demand was not met. Koizumi refused, and the deadline passed with no news of the hostages' fate.

The standoff has turned into a political problem for the prime minister, with the hostages' families appearing on television daily - sometimes asking why Japanese troops cannot be withdrawn at least temporarily to save the lives of the captives.

The Bush administration, after laboring for months to persuade Japan and other countries to send troops to Iraq, now is facing the prospect of an equally difficult struggle to persuade them to remain.

Cheney made a point of praising Japan for taking on the responsibilities of a great power by donating personnel and money to the U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cheney warned Koizumi that insurgents in Iraq are likely to step up attacks against foreigners in the weeks remaining before the scheduled transfer of sovereignty, a senior American official said.

Cheney was to meet today with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Tokyo, and give a speech marking the 150th anniversary of the 1854 treaty negotiated by Commodore Matthew Perry that opened Japan to American trade. Later in the day, Cheney is scheduled to fly to Beijing for meetings with Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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