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August 11, 1985

Cable No. 662, Ambassador Kato to the Foreign Minister, 'Problem of the Release of the American Hostages (Meeting of Special Envoy Nakayama and Foreign Minister Shara)'

Number: R109081

Primary: Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau Director-General


Sent: Syria, August 11, 1985, 18:07


Received: MOFA, August 12, 1985, 01:59


To: The Foreign Minister      

From: Ambassador Kato


Problem of the Release of the American Hostages (Meeting of Special Envoy Nakayama and Foreign Minister Shara)


No. 662 Secret Top Urgent


(Limited Distribution)


From 7:40 on the evening of the 10th, for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, Special Envoy Nakayama met Foreign Minister Shara at the Foreign Ministry. A summary of the meeting’s main points follows below. (Other officials and I attended on our side; Muallem, director of the Foreign Minister’s Private Office, attended on the other side. The interpreter was Matsumoto, charge d’affaires ad interim, Yemen.)


Special Envoy Nakayama:


Minister, your visit to Japan and the visit of Minister Abe to your country prepared the ground in both Japan and Syria for a strengthening of relations between our two countries. It is an honor for me to visit your country this time as Prime Minister Nakasone’s special envoy and to be able to be of some help in strengthening relations between Japan and Syria. When I met you, Minister, the other day in Japan I was (my title was) chairman of the Middle East Institute of Japan. Now, I have become president of the Japan – Syria Friendship Association as well. In these two capacities, it is an honorable mission for me to be able to cooperate in the expansion and development of relations between Japan and Syria. I plan to visit Syria again this fall for Japan Week, which will be held in Damascus, and expect to visit your country frequently hereafter. I have brought with me this time a letter from Prime Minister Nakasone for President Assad. My purpose in this visit to Syria is explained very precisely in this letter. Accordingly, this is something of an exception to diplomatic practice, but I would be happy, Minister, because I am delivering it to you, if you would read it. (So saying, I handed the letter to Foreign Minister Shara.)


Foreign Minister Shara:


(After reading the Prime Minister’s letter) I have carefully read the letter. I believe that President Assad will express his satisfaction when he receives the letter. We would like to work to arrange, depending on President Assad’s schedule, a courtesy call on President Assad for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


I must deliver this letter from Prime Minister Nakasone directly to President Assad, so I would like to meet President Assad even if we change the initial schedule. Minister, I would like your help, so I would like to offer something of an explanation.  Great change has taken place between Japan as it was until the 1970s and the Japan of the 1980s. By the 1970s, (Japan) was said to have become an economic power. On the other hand, in politics, it still thought of itself as a small country. Other countries, too, saw Japan in that way. In the 1980s, however, together with the development of its economic strength, Japan’s responsibility in international society, particularly its political responsibility, has grown. The Japanese people, too, have gradually come to understand this. For example, both Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe plan to attend the United Nations General Assembly this fall. Also, the Summit of the Advanced Countries will be held next year in Tokyo.


Amid great changes in the world situation, the peace and stability of the Middle East is one of the problems in which Japan takes the greatest interest. Japan wishes to put utmost effort into creating an environment conducive to peace. In this connection, the Government of Japan and the Japanese people highly appreciate from a humanitarian viewpoint all the efforts of President Assad at the time of the TWA Incident. The greatest purpose of my visit this time to Syria is to ask your country to do its utmost for the release of the foreigners, including the seven Americans, who remain held in Lebanon. In regard to this matter, Minister Abe has already made this request of you, but I would like you to understand my sincere sentiment in again making this request of you as Prime Minister Nakasone’s envoy.


Foreign Minister Shara:


I certainly understand Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe making in good faith (from a humanitarian viewpoint) a request of Syria in regard to the release of the foreigners, including the seven Americans, held in Lebanon. There is no change in the stand that we stated at the time of Minister Abe’s visit to Syria: “Syria is making every effort for the release of the persons held in Lebanon.” The Syrian authorities in Lebanon, that is, the security authorities, having heard what Mr. Abe said, have been gathering information on the whereabouts of these hostages and who abducted them. Such efforts on the part of Syria are based on the firm resolution: “We say no to the abduction of innocent civilians.” I have to say, due to the difficult circumstances in Lebanon at present, that one cannot hope for results (from Syria’s efforts) and that the hope that positive results can be had have become smaller. Our greatest goal lies in bringing the hostages back alive. Therefore, it will not do for our activities to bring any danger to the hostages. Considering this, it makes our activities even more difficult. However, we are not pessimistic. We will work to the end for the release of the hostages, hope for the release of the hostages, even if only of some of them, and hope for a joyful conclusion in the near future. The efforts that we are making have a strong connection as well to the cooperation that Syria is undertaking for the maintenance of security in Lebanon. The reason for this is that criminals exploit the chaotic or (desperately) confused situation in Lebanon to commit crimes. I believe that all that Syria is doing in Lebanon now – such as offering help for maintaining security, help for national consensus, and help for disarming the militia – will contribute to release of the hostages. I would like to say once again that we highly appraise Japan’s good-faith initiative on this matter. Our country, too, wishes to continue our efforts for the release of the hostages. Also, please give my best regards to Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe. I look forward to seeing Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe at the United Nations General Assembly.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


Thank you for that clear explanation. Minister, due to your efforts and those of Minister Abe, relations between Japan and Syria have developed into a global relationship. I believe that, Japan and Syria talking with one another concerning this type of problem is one kind of political dialogue and a kind of political cooperation. In the relationship between Japan and Syria in the past there was economic dialogue. Today, one can say that the ability of such political dialogue to be held today is a result of the development of the Japan-Syria relationship. I believe that, if our common objective (the release of the hostages) were realized, there would be an increase for Japan in its feeling as a “friend” in regard to Syria. In no way is this an exaggeration. Both Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe are very conscious of this. I was told before departing Japan that, with a heightened sense of solidarity (between Japan and Syria) as a lever, they would like to do their utmost to strengthen further the relationship that we have developed in the past in such fields as economics and culture.


We can understand that, as you have explained, Minister, this matter is a difficult one to resolve, but would freeing only those hostages whose whereabouts are known be a danger for the complete resolution of this matter?


Foreign Minister Shara:


The problem lies in our not knowing who took the hostages, where they did so, or how how they did it. On the basis of information obtained on one occasion or another, we went to that place to see, but it was an “empty shell” by then. They (the abductors) are not always in the same place but seem to move around from place to place.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


In Lebanon’s chaotic circumstances, I think there is nothing to do in the end but to rely on Syria’s security forces. Japan, which is in a cooperative relationship with the United States, clearly communicates to the United States regarding Japan’s position.  So what should Japan advise the United States in order to resolve this matter?


Foreign Minister Shara:


Our view is that there is no direct connection between the resolution of the Middle East problem and this matter. Two days ago, in fact, a foreign country’s media organization reported, “Syria will probably release the hostages while the Arab Summit is taking place.” This reporting is completely without foundation. Such foreign media organizations have been saying that Syria has been attempting to divert attention from its position on the Arab Summit by the release of the hostages. They are saying such things as the hostages are in Syria's hands, but it is completely untrue. Syria has come at this matter purely from a humanitarian viewpoint, as was said in the statement of President Assad that was issued immediately after the resolution of the TWA Incident.


The situation in the TWA Incident was very clear. In the case of the seven Americans and the other foreigners who are still held in Lebanon, we do not know under what circumstances they were abducted or who was taken. If we understood such points, I think that we would know the whole picture. It is a difficult matter, but we are not pessimistic.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


There is the view that this matter is connected to the treatment of the criminals in the Kuwait bombing incident. On the other hand, there is also the view that the United States putting pressure on Israel, forcing Israel to release the 300 Lebanese Shiites who remain held there, would be useful in improving the situation. What do you think of this?


Foreign Minister Shara:


We have no information at all concerning those held in Kuwait. We think that there is no relationship at all between this matter and the problem of the release of the Lebanese Shiites held in Israel. The reason is that, as for the release of the Lebanese detained by Israel, it was agreed to release all those Lebanese in order to resolve the TWA Incident.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


Has the resolution of this hostage problem not become more difficult because the agreement made at the time of the TWA Incident has not been realized?


Foreign Minister Shara:


These two problems have no relation to one another. The agreement with the United States at the time of the TWA Incident was that, if the 39 TWA hostages were released, then Israel would release all the Lebanese Shiites held there. The United States should be criticized for not having fully implemented this agreement.


Special Envoy Nakayama:


The Japanese people have the desire to use more budget for international cooperation. As part of such thinking, Japan, in support of international peace, wishes to further advance cooperation that Japan and Syria are conducting in regard to this matter. Such political cooperation is connected to the promotion of cooperation in such fields as economics and culture that we have promoted in the past. We hope that relations between Japan and Syria develop whereby their strengthening in connection to such aspects as economics and culture contributes to a further expansion of relations in the political field.


Foreign Minister Shara:


I well understand Japan’s awareness in regard to international peace, as well as its awareness that resolving peace in the Middle East is connected to peace in the world.


As for Syria’s position on and conditions for peace in the Middle East, they are as I explained to Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe on my visit to Japan and as I explained to Minister Abe on his visit to Syria. In reality, the United States’ giving to Israel aid in all aspects – political, economic, and military – makes us suspicious in regard to the thinking of the United States on peace in this region. We suspect the United States of seeking hegemony in this region. As for the Palestinian problem, regarding the so-called Jordanian-Palestinian accord, Syria considers that the accord makes no contribution to peace in this region. On the contrary,  it further encourages stubborn people in Israel while further aggravating division among the Arab countries in regard to peace in the Middle East and also increasing the difficulties in this region’s situation. The purpose of this Arab Summit is to acknowledge the Jordanian-Palestinian Accord, but Syria and many other countries have boycotted this summit or lowered the level of their country’s representative. The situation is one of “speaking evasively.”


Special Envoy Nakayama:


I would like to return to Japan with your message.  I would like you to understand as well the meaning in our side’s efforts.  


Foreign Minister Shara:


I think it would be good for you to speak frankly to the President.


I would like you to please relay this to the relevant diplomatic missions.  (End)


A telegram from Japanese Ambassador Kato to the Foreign Minister summarizing a meeting between Special Envoy Nakayama and Foreign Minister Shara about the relationship between Japan and Syria and the American hostages in Lebanon.

Document Information


Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, File No. 2017-0631. Translated by Stephen Mercado.


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