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Japan Encourages Plea Bargain for Alleged US Deserter - 2004-07-25

Japan's Foreign Minister is expressing the desire to quickly work out a solution with the United States over the fate of a U.S. soldier accused of deserting to communist North Korea during the Cold War.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Sunday hinted that both Tokyo and Washington are looking for a plea bargain by alleged deserter, Sergeant Charles Jenkins.

Appearing on a Japanese television discussion program, Ms. Kawaguchi confirmed the allies still have differences on the issue.

Ms. Kawaguchi said, based on the trusting relationship between the two countries, she is optimistic that the case can be resolved. She adds that it is desirable to do it soon.

The alleged Army deserter has been in a Tokyo hospital for a week after coming to Japan with his two daughters, who were born in North Korea, to join his Japanese wife.

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker said that while there is concern about Sergeant Jenkins' health, the United States has limited patience regarding his case.

"I hope that Mr. Jenkins will face up to the reality that there has to be an effort to deal with the situation," he said. "It cannot go on indefinitely."

Sergeant Jenkins faces four charges by the U.S. military, desertion, aiding the enemy, encouraging disloyalty and soliciting other service members to desert. Some of his relatives dispute the desertion charges.

Local media say Japanese authorities are encouraging Sergeant Jenkins to discuss a plea bargain, but there are conflicting reports about whether he has agreed.

Sergeant Jenkins crossed the border into North Korea in 1965 while serving near the demilitarized zone. He met Ms. Soga after North Korean agents abducted her from Japan in 1978.

Ms. Soga returned to Japan in 2002, but had to leave her husband and daughters behind.

The family's story has been closely followed here and Japan has repeatedly urged the United States to give Sergeant Jenkins special consideration so that his family can live together in Ms. Soga's native country.