TOKYO — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard H. Baker and a high-ranking Japanese official used a U.S.-Japanese friendship ceremony Monday to reiterate what each nation wants from the other.

The United States seeks Japan’s help in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq and in keeping the peace in those countries.

Japan wants continued U.S. support for demands that North Korea return Japanese citizens the communist state admits it abducted over the years.

During the International Friendship Exchange Council ceremony, Baker reaffirmed U.S.-Japanese friendship. He said Japan “has played a crucial role” in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism and in efforts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

Japan’s Diet is debating whether Japan’s Self-Defense Forces will be sent to Iraq and what their role there would be.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe represented Japan at the ceremony.

He mentioned the abductees in his speech. But some abductees’ family members, including Shigeru Yokota and Akihiro Arimori, spoke from the audience, signaling the emphasis Japanese place on the return of their kin.

Yokota, father of Megumi Yokota, an abductee who reportedly died after being taken to North Korea in 1977, thanked Baker for helping arrange a recent visit to Washington to seek support for the return of abducted family members.

Baker, in turn, said “both countries — Japan and the United States — made it clear that for the issue of North Korea to resolved, we must first resolve the issue of abduction. That is a powerful statement, powerful precondition … to negotiation with North Korea.”

North Korea pumped up regional tensions when it announced it was scrapping its agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.

Negotiations toward settling the dispute are stalled: North Korea insists on one-on-one talks with the United States; Washington wants China, Japan and South Korea to participate.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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