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US Vice President Pledges to Help Japan in Iraq Hostage Crisis - 2004-04-12

Vice President Dick Cheney has promised Japan's prime minister the United States will do all it can to help free three Japanese held hostage in Iraq. Mr. Cheney made the pledge during a meeting in Tokyo.

Vice President Dick Cheney told Junichiro Koizumi that the United States will do everything in its power to assist in freeing the three civilians.

After meeting the Japanese prime minister, Mr. Cheney told reporters that the United States wholeheartedly supports Mr. Koizumi's position on the hostages.

Mr. Koizumi has said he will not bow to the kidnappers' demand that Japan pull its troops out of Iraq. They threaten to kill the hostages unless several hundred Japanese troops, who are doing humanitarian work, leave the war-torn country.

Mr. Koizumi, speaking to reporters after his meeting with Mr. Cheney, says he has not be able to confirm the status of the hostages, so he understands the agony of their relatives.

The hostages in Iraq overshadowed other items on Mr. Cheney's agenda in Japan, such as efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

More than 2,000 people, including family members of the hostages, rallied in front of the prime minister's official residence late Sunday, calling for the release of the hostages and the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq.

Ayako Inoue, the sister of hostage Nahoko Takato, was among the protesters. Ms. Inoue makes an emotional plea for the kidnappers to spare the life of her sister, a volunteer aid worker. Also being held are a teenage peace activist and a photojournalist.

On Monday, families of the hostages visited the headquarters of five political parties, pleading for more information and requesting that the parties pressure Prime Minister Koizumi to meet with them.

Vice President Cheney, who arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, will also find hostage-taking in Iraq on the agenda when he travels to China and South Korea this week. Citizens of both countries have been taken hostage in recent days. Seven South Koreans, all Christian missionaries, were freed a few hours after being taken.

At least seven Chinese citizens are being held, although it is not clear why they were in Iraq. China, unlike Japan and South Korea, has opposed the military invasion of Iraq and refused to send any troops to join the U.S.-led coalition there.

Mr. Cheney's talks in Beijing and Seoul are also expected to focus on arranging a third round of multi-lateral talks concerning North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.