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Secret Envoy’s Kuwait Stopover Said Unrelated To Hostages

December 17, 1986

TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese envoy stopped over in Kuwait during a secret Middle East trip on behalf of Americans held in Lebanon, but did not discuss the hostages with Kuwaiti officials, a Foreign Ministry official said today.

The envoy, retired diplomat Yoshihiro Nakayama, 72, merely changed planes in Kuwait en route to Syria, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Moslem Shiite extremists believed to hold several Americans hostage in Lebanon have repeatedly demanded the release of 17 people imprisoned in Kuwait for terrorists bombings against French and U.S. embassies. Kuwait has refused to consider the demand.

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone had asked Nakayama to travel to Iran and Syria in August 1985 to ask that those governments intercede on behalf of the hostages.

Nakayama is a former ambassador to France and now president of the Middle East Institute of Japan, a private research and public relations organization.

Nakasone also wrote a letter to Iran’s speaker of parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had made an official visit to Japan in July 1985.

Nakasone told reporters Tuesday he had asked Rafsanjani to help free the hostages. The prime minister said Rafsanjani had replied that he would try.

Nakasone’s comments were reported by Kyodo News Service.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Nakayama refused to comment on his activities or a U.S. newspaper report saying he had suggested Japan would buy more oil from Iran or boost postwar reconstruction aid if the hostages were freed. Iran has been fighting Iraq since September 1980.

In addition to Nakayama, a senior member of the Japanese Parliament, Masayuki Fujio, visited Iran in January, but the nature of his mission was not known. Repeated calls to Fujio’s residence in Tokyo went unanswered today, and people answering the phone at his office said he would be out all day.

Nakasone has said Japan had sought on its own to help free the hostages. He has said the effort had nothing to do with U.S. arms sales to Iran and was not the result of a request from President Reagan, as some published reports suggested.

Akira Hatano, a retired minister of justice, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it was his idea to help the hostages and that he took the proposal to Nakasone. Hatano said he then met with U.S. intelligence officials to obtain information about the hostages.

Hatano disputed a Washington Post report that the effort began with a call from Reagan to Nakasone.

Hatano said Reagan did call Nakasone, but it was after Nakayama’s mission was arranged and before the diplomat departed. Hatano described the president’s call as ″a thank you call, that’s all.″

Hatano also said he did not know whether Nakayama had carried a message concerning Japan’s readiness to buy more oil or provide aid if the hostages were freed. He said it was simply his personal opinion that such actions could ultimately result.

Seventeen foreigners, including six Americans, are missing in Lebanon.

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