Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Monday expressed his gratitude to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu for Ankara's efforts in securing the release last month of a freelance Japanese journalist held captive in Syria.
During a joint press appearance with Cavusoglu in Tokyo, Kono said Turkey is an important strategic partner as Japan steps up its engagement in the Middle East. They also agreed to enhance bilateral economic relations with an eye on a free trade accord.
"I'd like to express my gratitude again to President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and Turkish government officials for their assistance with regards to the recent release" of journalist Jumpei Yasuda, Kono said.
Following his entry into Syria to cover the civil war, Yasuda was held hostage by a warring faction that later demanded a ransom for his release. Yasuda spent over three years in captivity until he was freed in late October.
After confirming on Oct. 24 that the man freed and under protection in the southern Turkish city of Antakya was Yasuda, Japan expressed its appreciation to Turkey, along with Qatar, for their support in securing Yasuda's release.
"As Japan steps up engagement in the Middle East, Turkey, which plays a critical role there, is an extremely important partner," said Kono.
The two ministers exchanged views on a range of issues including the efforts to secure stability in Syria as well as North Korea's denuclearization.
"Turkey welcomes Japan's increasing efforts toward proactively solving issues in a peaceful manner, not only in the region around Japan but also in the Middle East," Cavusoglu said.
He also expressed hope of deeper economic ties between Turkey and Japan as a result of the ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement.
Turkey serves as a production hub for Japanese carmakers and other manufacturers for products destined for Europe.