Cheney Visits Japan Amid Hostage Crisis

Vice President Dick Cheney (searchwas pledging U.S. support to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (searchin pressing ahead with plans to double Japan's noncombat forces in Iraq despite the furor over the abduction of three citizens, U.S. officials said Sunday.

The kidnapping of the Japanese civilians by Iraqi militants cast a pall over Cheney's visit to Japan, his first stop on a weeklong Asia trip that also is taking the vice president to China and South Korea.

Cheney attended Easter services with his wife, Lynne, at a nondenominational English-speaking Protestant church in Tokyo.

After a stop at the U.S. Embassy early Monday, Cheney headed for a meeting with Koizumi and other officials, with the kidnappings expected to come up. "I want to thank all of you on behalf of the United States for what you do day in and day out," Cheney told embassy workers.

The captors originally said they would kill the three captives if Japan did not pull its forces out by Sunday. Later, the kidnappers indicated they had decided to release their captives.

By early Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, a senior government official said there was still no word of a release. Japan has refused to pull out its troops, but the nation is deeply divided on their presence in Iraq.

Cheney was "keeping in close touch with the White House and Bush administration officials, monitoring the developments in Iraq and elsewhere," spokesman Kevin Kellems said.

The vice president is asking Japan and South Korea, which both have troops in Iraq, to stay the course.

Meanwhile, a report by the Arab TV station Al-Arabiya (searchthat insurgents kidnapped seven Chinese north of Fallujah on Sunday evening, citing Chinese diplomatic sources, could further complicate Cheney's trip.

Cheney was to be in Beijing on Tuesday. U.S. officials said they had no information on the report, and that Iraq already was expected to be high on Cheney's agenda in China.

Japan has about 530 ground troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, part of a total planned deployment of 1,100 soldiers for humanitarian and other reconstruction tasks.