Jenkins statement averts standoff
TOKYO, Reuters Thursday, September 2, 2004, 12:00 am TWN
An American soldier accused of deserting to North Korea in 1965 and now in hospital in Tokyo said on Wednesday he was willing to report to the U.S. military in Japan to face charges.
The statement by Charles Robert Jenkins marked a step towards resolving a diplomatic standoff between Tokyo and Washington.
Jenkins, 64, arrived in Japan in July for medical care after a reunion in Jakarta with his Japanese wife, abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 but allowed to go home two years ago. The couple have two North Korean-born daughters.
The United States wants Jenkins to face a court-martial but has held off seeking custody while he was in hospital.
"When I stepped on to the plane that carried my family and me from Indonesia to Japan, it was my full intention to voluntarily report to the U.S. Army base in Japan to face the allegations that have been charged against me," Jenkins said in a statement released through the Japanese government.
Saying that he had been too ill to do so immediately, Jenkins added: "Under the watchful care of Japanese doctors and nurses, I gain strength and health every day and I hope I will very shortly be healthy enough to leave the hospital and travel to Camp Zama."
He said he would report voluntarily to the army base west of Tokyo "to begin the process that will bring closure to my pending legal situation".
In a report published later on Wednesday on the Far Eastern Economic Review's Web site, Jenkins was quoted as saying in an interview that he had decided to turn himself in to keep his family together.
"Another thing: I'd like to clear my conscience," he added.
Japanese media have quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Jenkins would enter a plea bargain by providing the U.S. government with information on U.S. and South Korean soldiers who are in North Korea and would accept a dishonorable discharge.
Japanese government officials said they were pleased.
"I think it is a very brave thing, a good thing, that he wants to deal with his past in this forward-looking way," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.
"We the government hope to continue to support the family as much as we can so they can live together in Japan."
Soga, who met Jenkins in North Korea after being abducted to help train spies to speak Japanese, returned to Japan with four other abductees in 2002 but had to leave her husband and daughters behind.
Her plight has attracted public sympathy in Japan, and Tokyo has asked Washington to give Jenkins special treatment to enable the family to live together in Japan — a request that the United States has so far rejected.
Speculation has mounted that a plea bargain might be the most realistic solution to what has become a diplomatic dilemma for Washington and one of its closest allies.
Jenkins has been charged with desertion, aiding the enemy, encouraging disloyalty and soliciting other service members to desert.
"We would welcome this development. Sergeant Jenkins faces some serious charges and these need to be addressed," said U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Colonel Victor Warzinski.
The Far Eastern Economic Review quoted Jenkins' military lawyer, James D. Culp, as saying that Jenkins could offer the United States details about foreign nationals in the North Korean spy program.
The report added that Jenkins' defense would be partly based on the idea that he pretended loyalty to North Korea so that he could keep his family together and save himself.
U.S. President George W. Bush is thought to be reluctant to give Jenkins special treatment for fear of sending the wrong signal while U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq, as well as of offending voters before the November presidential election.
Japan's Koizumi, however, has expended considerable political capital by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq and sending troops to help rebuild that country.