Japan steps ups efforts to free hostages as deadline nears

Japan steps ups efforts to free hostages as deadline nears
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) shakes hands with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas during a press conference on January 20, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abe demanded in a press conference in Jerusalem before heading to the West Bank that the Islamic State group, which controls swathes of territory in Iraq an Syria, immediately free two Japanese hostages unharmed after the jihadists posted a video threat to kill them unless Tokyo pays a $200 million ransom within 72 hours to compensate for non-military aid that Abe pledged to support the campaign against IS during an ongoing Middle East.

With the 72-hour deadline approaching, the government is stepping up efforts to collect information on two Japanese nationals taken hostage by a group believed to be the Islamic State via diplomatic channels and seek cooperation from Britain, Jordan and other countries to break the impasse.

On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government has not been able to confirm the safety of hostages Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who heads a local headquarters set up in Amman to deal with the hostage crisis, met with King Abdullah II of Jordan and requested the country's cooperation on Wednesday.

"It's a tough situation, but we will make thorough arrangements to cooperate with Japan," the king was quoted as saying.

Asked about cooperation with Jordan after the meeting, Nakayama told reporters, "I must refrain [from commenting on the subject] as it's sensitive." He is believed to have met with other senior Jordanian government officials.

Jordan, which accepts refugees from Syria, has joined the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State and has been conducting airstrikes against the Islamic militant group out of concern that the group may enter the country.

In December, a pilot engaged in an airstrike against the Islamic State was taken hostage by the group. The pilot still remains captive.

The government has high expectations for cooperation from Jordan, a nation on the front line of the fight against the Islamic State.

Late Wednesday night, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received a report from Nakayama about the meeting with the king on the telephone in the Prime Minister's Office.

"The government's basic policy is to have [the two Japanese hostages] released as soon as possible," Suga stressed at a press conference on Thursday morning.

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