BAGHDAD, Iraq – The British government is ready to listen to the kidnappers of Kenneth Bigley (search) but will not enter into negotiations with them for the hostage's release, Britain's foreign secretary said Wednesday.
"We cannot enter into negotiations, but if hostage takers have a message, we will listen to it carefully," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) told reporters in Baghdad after meeting with Iraq's deputy prime minister for national security, Barham Saleh.
Bigley, 62, was abducted Sept. 16 with two Americans from their residence in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood by the dreaded Tawhid and Jihad group, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search).
The Americans, Eugene Armstrong (search) and Jack Hensley (search), were decapitated. Graphic videos of their slayings were posted on the Internet, along with videotapes of Bigley pleading with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to save him.
Straw, who arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday after talks with Kurdish leaders in the north, said he discussed the Bigley case with Saleh and other Iraqi authorities but provided no details. More than 150 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq; at least 26 of them have been killed.
Bigley's abduction and his heart-wrenching appeals have spotlighted the crisis in Iraq at a time when Blair had wanted to focus attention on domestic issues ahead of elections expected next year.
During his press conference, Straw acknowledged that in parts of Iraq, the U.S.-led military and Iraqi government face a "serious security situation."
"The fight against terrorism is a fight for all of us," he said. "That is why it is crucial that the Iraqi people, with our support, are able to defeat this terrorism here in Iraq."
Saleh, a top Iraqi Kurdish official, noted U.S. and Iraqi success last week in regaining control of the Sunni Triangle city of Samarra from the rebels and said the government was in contact with representatives of the insurgent stronghold Fallujah to resolve the standoff there. Saleh said progress opposition from "terrorists and extremists" made progress difficult.
"In the new Iraq, force is a last resort," Saleh said.