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Former Official: Japan Sent Envoy to Iran, Syria With AM-US-Iran-Contra Rdp Bjt

December 16, 1986

TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone dispatched a secret envoy to Iran and Syria last year in a bid to win the release of hostages in Beirut, and President Reagan personally telephoned his thanks, a former justice minister said Tuesday.

Akira Hatano, the former minister, said sending a special envoy to Tehran and Damascus in August 1985 stemmed from his own idea of what action was needed to win the hostages’ release.

″I thought that since Japan had good relations with Iran and Syria, such contact might be fruitful,″ Hatano said in a telephone interview. ″If those countries cooperated, then Japan could in turn cooperate in the future ... such as buying more oil from them or increasing developmental aid.″

The contacts were made at Japan’s initiative and not in response to pressure from the Reagan administration to join efforts to free the hostages, Hatano said.

″It was our own idea, not a response to a U.S. request,″ Hatano said. He said Reagan telephoned Nakasone in July 1985, after the envoy’s mission was set up, to thank him for planning the trips.

″It was a thank you call, that’s all,″ Hatano said.

Nakasone was quoted Tuesday by Kyodo News Service as saying he received a call from Reagan - possibly the same one - during the summer of 1985.

Nakasone also said he sent a letter to Iranian Parliament speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani but denied any connection with the U.S. sale of weapons to the fundamentalist Islamic government in Tehran.

″My sending a letter to ... Rafsanjani was an independent action taken by Japan and had nothing to do with arms sales to Iran,″ Nakasone was quoted as saying.

Nakasone said he told Rafsanjani, ″I strongly urge you to (use) your influence″ to help bring about the hostages’ freedom. He quoted Rafsanjani as replying, ″The hostages question is a humanitarian issue, and I will make efforts on those grounds.″

Hatano, justice minister for a year starting in November 1982, said he first thought of taking some kind of action in July 1985 just after Rafsanjani made an official visit to Japan.

He said he brought up the subject to Nakasone, who approved, and met with American intelligence officers, whom he would not identify, to gain information about the hostages.

The government appointed Yoshihiro Nakayama, a former ambassador to France, as the secret envoy, and he made two trips to Tehran and Damascus in August 1985, said Hatano, who was a member of the House of Councillors for 12 years before retiring in July.

At the time, six Americans were missing in Lebanon, kidnapped by various underground groups. Three since have been released, but three more Americans have been kidnapped.

Iran and Syria are believed to have influence with at least some of the captors.

Hatano said he did not know if Nakayama proposed economic and financial incentives to Iran and Syria.

Japan’s involvement in the hostage crisis came to light Nov. 4 when Rafsanjani said Nakasone sent him a letter seeking Iran’s influence in freeing American and French hostages held in Lebanon.

After initially refusing comment, Nakasone conceded that he had initiated the contacts, stressing that he did so of his own volition.

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