Japan asks U.S. to pardon abductee’s American husband

Japan has asked the United States to pardon a former American soldier living in North Korea whose Japanese wife was kidnapped by the reclusive regime and repatriated in 2002, government sources said Saturday.

The government made the request after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he will make a second visit to Pyongyang on May 22 for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The government is hoping to have eight relatives — including former U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins — of the five repatriated Japanese brought to Japan.

The government asked Washington to give “special consideration,” including a pardon, to Jenkins, who is listed as having deserted in 1965, according to the sources.

In Washington on Friday, the State Department said Japan had notified and consulted U.S. officials about Koizumi’s upcoming trip to North Korea.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States “has consistently supported” Japanese efforts to gain the release of its citizens abducted by North Korea, and of their family members. He made no mention of Jenkins.

Tokyo is speeding up the negotiations because Jenkins may express reservations about leaving North Korea due to the possibility that he may be prosecuted for desertion if he goes to Japan, the sources said.

Jenkins, 64, is married to Hitomi Soga, 44, one of the five Japanese abducted in 1978 and repatriated in October 2002. He lives with their two daughters in Pyongyang.

Koizumi intends to bring the eight family members to Japan on a government plane after finishing the planned one-day meeting with Kim, the sources said.

The seven other relatives in questions are children of the former abductees.

The proposal that Koizumi visit Pyongyang to pick up the family members was made earlier this month when Japanese and North Korean officials conducted two days of intergovernmental talks in Beijing centering on the abduction issue.

On Friday, Koizumi expressed confidence that the summit will help advance pending issues, including reuniting the families in Japan, saying, “I will not make the decision (to go to North Korea) unless I judge that progress will be made.”

But many government officials and governing coalition lawmakers have expressed concern that the handover of the family members from North Korea will not be easy unless the U.S. gives Jenkins special treatment, such as a pardon, according to the sources.