Tokyo reliant on Jordanian auspices

Tokyo reliant on Jordanian auspices
Japan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama speaks to the media in Amman January 26, 2015.

TOKYO - Lacking its own channels for negotiation with Islamic State militants, Japan needs Jordan's assistance in seeking the release of a Japanese hostage -- especially now that his captors are demanding a swap for a Jordanian-held prisoner.

Tokyo believes that a message posted online Saturday, in which a voice purporting to be missing Japanese journalist Kenji Goto issues the new demand, was authentic, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday. Islamic State claims to be holding Goto and to have killed his fellow Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.

But Suga dodged the question of whether the Japanese government would ask Jordan to free the death row inmate whom Islamic State wants released in exchange for letting Goto go. The Jordanian-held prisoner, an Iraqi woman, was implicated in a spate of bombings in Amman in 2005.

She is said to have had close ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, formerly the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in a US airstrike. This demand puts the Japanese government, which has backed the US-led fight against Islamic terrorism, in a delicate position.

Even before the Islamic State issued its latest demand, Japan had high hopes for Jordan's help in seeking the release of Goto and Yukawa. Japan "has no standing with Islamic State," an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says. When Japanese nationals were taken hostage in Iraq in 2004, Tokyo set up its forward base for dealing with the crisis in Jordan, as it has this time. The government in Amman cooperated fully in gathering information and negotiating for their release.

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