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August 12, 1985

Cable No. 663, Ambassador Kato to the Foreign Minister, 'Problem of the Release of the American Hostages (Meeting of Special Envoy Nakayama and President Assad)'

Number: R109097

Primary: Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau Director-General


Sent: Syria, August 12, 1985, 00:15

Received: MOFA, August 12, 1985, 07:33


To: The Foreign Minister      

From: Ambassador Kato


Problem of the Release of the American Hostages (Meeting of Special Envoy Nakayama and President Assad)


No. 663 Secret Top Urgent


(Limited Distribution)


Re: Outgoing Telegram No. 662


From 1:30 on the afternoon of the 11th, for an hour and thirty minutes, Special Envoy Nakayama met President Assad at the president’s official residence. A summary of the meetings main points follows below. (I attended on our side. The only other person present on the other side was a note taker. The interpreter was Matsumoto, charge d'affaires ad interim at the Embassy of Japan in Yemen.)


The conversation took place in a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. President Assad, upon receiving the letter said that he had forgotten his glasses and had someone present from the other side go and bring them to him. The conversation then included his asking about Japanese advances in ophthalmology and introducing such episodes as how, after guerrillas in Southern Lebanon made use of donkeys, the Israeli military registered the donkeys in each village of Southern Lebanon and issued passes for them. He then burst out laughing.


President Assad:


(After greeting the Special Envoy) When did you arrive here?


Special Envoy:


I arrived here yesterday.




You have visited here before, haven’t you?


Special Envoy:


I have visited here a number of times in the past. Most recently, it was two years ago. I am here this time as the Prime Minister’s special envoy but, since I have recently become chairman of the Japan-Syria Friendship Association in addition to being chairman of the Middle East Institute of Japan, I think that I will from this point onward be visiting this region often, so I would like to thank you in advance. I expect to come again in September for Japan Week, which will be held here.




I think that there is a need to strength cultural relations between our two countries. I wish you success in you work as chairman of the Japan-Syria Friendship Association to bring cultural relations between our two countries closer together.


Special Envoy:


I have brought with me a letter from Prime Minister Nakasone, which I would like to pass to you. It explains the purpose of this visit, so please read it. (He hands over the letter.)  




(After reading the letter) Thank you for this letter. I now understand the thoughts of Prime Minister Nakasone, which he wrote in his letter. Please, speak.


Special Envoy:


As seen recently in Foreign Minister Shara’s visit to Japan and Minister Abe’s visit to Syria, exchanges of persons between our two countries have increased. By means of this, a solid base is being created between our two countries in political, economic, and cultural fields. Japan has a very great interest in peace in the Middle East, which has also become an important issue in diplomacy. In this connection, the Government of Japan and the Japanese people applaud and respect the President’s important role and efforts in the recent resolution of the TWA Incident. In this connection, as you mentioned in friendship, I would like to request the President’s particular and utmost efforts for the release of the foreigners, including the seven Americans, now held hostage in Lebanon. Minister Abe has spoken of this to Foreign Minister Shara already, but I would like you to understand the earnest sentiment of Prime Minister Nakasone in sending me here this time as his special envoy to make this request again. The Foreign Minister and I had a long conversation yesterday. Where these hostages are is said not to be known, but I request your cooperation in the release as soon as possible for those whose whereabouts are known.




I am happy to continue the exchange of views with Japan. I hope that such exchanges become even more active. I had an ample discussion with Minister Abe the other day on the necessity of peace in the Middle East and the promotion of relations between our two countries.  I believe that this exchange of views bore good results. Regarding international terrorism, Syria rejects such acts regardless of where they take place. In particular, we strongly oppose terrorist acts against civilians who are in no way connected to the military. However, I think it necessary to clearly distinguish Syria’s position regarding such terrorist acts and measures of resistance against the violation of sovereignty. Violating sovereignty is the utmost act of terrorism. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon is the worst as an act of terrorism. The acts of Lebanese against the Israeli military are a form of national and military resistance. The Israeli military invaded Lebanon with advanced rockets, weapons, and a regular army. By contrast, the Lebanese did not have such things. In order to oppose the Israeli military, they take, of course, every means possible.


Syria has informed each group in Lebanon that taking hostage civilians with no direct connection to the Israeli military’s invasion of Lebanon does not contribute to resolving the problem of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Among Lebanon’s major groups, they all clearly think this way. However, many small groups exist in Lebanon, and those groups act based on their own thinking. There is no relationship of political cooperation between these small groups and Syria, but there are contacts on the non-political side. In various forms, there are contacts between Syrians and persons in these groups for one purpose or another. There is no hostile relationship between Syria and these groups. (Relations are rather good,) but they are relations of mutual understanding or friendship. They are not based on a solid foundation. With Lebanon’s major groups, the coordination of views on major issues is possible. For the smaller groups, however, the only point of contact is opposing Israel. In Lebanon, not only non-Arabs but Arabs as well have been abducted. The charge d’affaires of the Saudi Embassy was also abducted. We continued talks concerning him for a year but in the end “got the runaround” on his whereabouts and other details. About three months ago, we learned where he was and achieved his delivery.


We have held talks on the seven abducted Americans. President Reagan, too, has sent us a letter. We fixed our attention on some persons and entered into contact, only for them to respond that they were not involved but that they would try finding someone. However, because the United States two months ago exercised its veto in connection to deliberations of the Security Council on the problem of Southern Lebanon, our contact with them came to an end. After that the TWA Incident occurred. The circumstances of the TWA hostage problem were very difficult. President Reagan sent a letter. It was at the time that the hijacked TWA aircraft was flying to then from Algeria that the letter was sent. Concerning this incident, we were following it from the start. The small group, deceiving the large group, took four of the hostages to another place. Having contacted other groups, we learned where the four persons were. The negotiations that followed for the release of the hostages went well because the Lebanese groups were clear on the conditions that they were demanding in return. The United States strongly requested that the release of the TWA Incident’s hostages not be linked to the release of the Lebanese held in Israel and at the same time rejected an exchange. The Lebanese groups asked that Syria obtain from the United States a guarantee for the release of the Lebanese prisoners in Israel, so we contacted the United States, which then refused. As the talks were coming to a close, the Lebanese group refused to release the four hostages. Because of this, the agreed-upon time of release was delayed by an entire day, during which time we obtained from the United States a guarantee. However, unfortunately, the US government has not implemented this agreement at all. Syria has not announced anything regarding this point, but we we have made repeated requests of the US ambassador in Syria to implement it.


Thus, Syria from the start grasped the situation concerning the TWA Incident, so we were able to lead it to a resolution. Concerning the seven Americans, however, it is unclear where they are, nor do we know whose act this is. It is a personal act. Even the information that at times came in was vague and waved about. There were other difficulties as well. For example, even if we knew their whereabouts, using force would put the lives of the hostages in danger. Accordingly, respecting human life, we need to deepen mutual understanding with these groups in order to resolve the problem. We promise Prime Minister Nakasone that we will do everything we can. Really, there are great difficulties in this. This problem is a very delicate one, so we have to take the greatest care on this. No mistakes will be allowed. In resolving this problem, we must build relations of confidence with those groups on the other side and ask for their cooperation. We hope that results come of this. I would like to respond to Prime Minister Nakasone’s request. I truly hope that the matter goes well.  


Special Envoy: I have solemnly listened just now to your words, Mr. President. I will convey your words to Prime Minister Nakasone. This hostage problem is a matter of concern not only for the United States but for the world. I fear that this kind of an atmosphere may become not the way of peace but that of violence. Concerning the release of the Lebanese held by Israel, if only the Americans whose whereabouts are known were freed first, could we not think of this improving the atmosphere and leading to the release of those held by Israel?




That is not realistic. The TWA Incident was a single incident. The agreement at that time was to release 735 Lebanese in exchange for the TWA hostages. There is no relationship between the Lebanese who remain in Israel today and the seven Americans. There is the past case of the unrelated four hostages having been freed without any demand in return.  Of course, had the TWA agreement been fully implemented, it perhaps would have offered some chance for the release of those seven persons. However, even if the Lebanese in Israel who from the start have been related to the TWA Incident are released, it will not be compensation for those groups.


Lebanese acts of resistance against the Israeli military are each day growing in intensity. The Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon is Israel’s greatest military failure.


Special Envoy:


Thank you for your explanation. I understand the difficulties, but please allow me once again to explain Japan’s position. Japan is far from the Middle East and has been until now a country little connected to the region. However, peace is this region is important for our lives as well. I have come to see you, Mr. President, with the thought of contributing, from a humanitarian standpoint, to the elimination from this world of such terrorist acts as hostage-taking and abductions. If this problem were resolved with the President’s efforts and influence, I believe that the Japanese people would welcome it and express appreciation for those efforts. It would have a very positive influence not only on world peace but on friendly relations Japan and Syria. We have dialogue and cooperative relations in various fields between our two countries as a result of efforts made on both sides, but if such a relationship of cooperation were demonstrated by the release of the hostages, then the Japanese people and, it goes without saying, Prime Minister Nakasone would be greatly appreciative. Using as a “lever” such a rise in mutual confidence would facilitate the strengthening of cooperation, particularly in the economic and cultural fields. In this respect, please let me know if there is anything at all we can do to cooperate. Please let me know if there is any progress concerning the hostages.




Thank you. I understand. Israel’s Lebanese prisoners are becoming a great burden for Israel as well. If my memory is correct, the US government informed us that Israel will probably release the Lebanese prisoners this month. I would like to start moving right after their release. I would like to stay in contact henceforth concerning this matter. Being able to cooperate in this matter is a pleasure. I completely agree, as you have said, that it is beneficial to cooperative relations between our two countries.


Special Envoy:


Mr. President, I thank you for your very kind words and I shall report in full what you have said to Prime Minister Nakasone.




Please convey my best regards to Prime Minister Nakasone and Minister Abe. I pray for the good health and success of the Prime Minister and Minister Abe.


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 President Assad about the relationship between Syria and Japan 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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