TOKYO – A Japanese diplomat emerged from talks in Jordan on Monday with no signs of progress in securing the release of a freelance journalist held hostage by the extremist Islamic State group.
Japanese officials refused direct comment on the contents of the talks in Jordan, where Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama is coordinating regional efforts to save hostage Kenji Goto.
The Islamic State group said in an online video on Jan. 20 that it had two Japanese hostages and would kill them within 72 hours unless Japan paid it $200 million -- the same amount Tokyo recently pledged in aid to nations fighting the militants.
Over the weekend, a new, unverified video showed a still photo of Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, holding a picture of what appears to be the body of fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa. It included a recording of a voice claiming to be Goto, saying his captors now want the release of a prisoner held in Jordan instead of a ransom.
Asked if the latest demand makes the situation more complex, chief Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga avoided a straight answer. But he said, "Naturally, Jordan has its own thoughts."
"The government is doing its utmost as the situation is still developing," he told reporters. "We are seeking cooperation from every possible party toward a release (of the remaining hostage)."
Japanese officials have indicated they are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer captured in Syria last summer, was killed.
"It was an extremely dastardly act," Suga said.
In Amman, Jordan, Deputy Foreign Minister Nakayama emerged from meetings with no fresh progress to report.
"Due to the nature of this problem, please understand why I cannot disclose information such as with whom I had meetings," he said.
Nakayama vowed to "absolutely not give up until the end."
The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the weekend video message, which differed from earlier videos released by the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.
News of the likely killing of Yukawa drew international condemnation, and outrage in Japan. Goto is thought to have been seized in late October after going there to try to rescue him.
Some in Japan are critical of the two men for taking such risks. Some Japanese also are criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for pursuing a more assertive foreign policy, saying it may have contributed to the crisis.
Abe has pushed to expand the role for Japan's troops -- one that has remained strictly confined to self-defense under the pacifist constitution adopted after the nation's defeat in World War II.
While on a visit to the Middle East earlier this month, Abe announced $200 million in humanitarian aid to the nations fighting the militants.