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Charles Robert Jenkins, a former U.S. soldier who is alleged to have deserted his unit and defected to North Korea in 1965, must undergo a full investigation if he visits Japan to meet his wife, Hitomi Soga, a senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.

“We’re not able to make any assurances before a full investigation would be made whenever the gentleman would present himself,” James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a news conference.

Kelly thus clarified the U.S. position on the issue: that Japan must hand Jenkins over to the U.S. before Washington can decide whether to meet Tokyo’s request that he receive preferential treatment.

Jenkins could face a court-martial for desertion.

“Mr. Jenkins disappeared, apparently walked to North Korea on his own, many, many years ago,” Kelly said. “There remain serious charges under the law that are there on Mr. Jenkins, and I think they’re going to have to be resolved whenever he chooses to return.”

Jenkins, 62, is listed by the U.S. military as having deserted to North Korea in 1965 while an army sergeant stationed on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. He is currently in the North.

He married Soga, 43, one of the five known surviving Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea who are currently back in Japan. The couple have two daughters, who were born in North Korea and were not allowed to accompany their mother to Japan.

Soga has said she hopes to reunite with her family soon.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Soga has requested a meeting with Ambassador Howard Baker to discuss the fate of her husband.

“The embassy is considering this request and will reply to Mrs. Soga shortly,” the spokesman said.

He declined to say when or how Soga contacted the embassy or when it plans to respond.

Soga getting presents

MANO, Niigata Pref. (Kyodo) Hitomi Soga, one of the five known surviving Japanese abducted to North Korea in 1978 and now back in Japan, has received presents and letters from well-wishers nationwide, local officials said Wednesday.

Gifts that Soga, 43, has received at her home on Sado Island include winter clothes, boxes of fruit and a compact disk player, the officials said.

Soga, whose American husband and two daughters were not allowed by Pyongyang to accompany her to Japan, has also received more than 100 letters of encouragement.

An official at a special government division set up to support her said Soga is grateful that people are thinking of her during this difficult time.

Many presents and letters arrived at her door after a weekly magazine published an article based on an interview with Soga’s husband and daughters last week.

In the interview, Soga’s family said they want her to return to Pyongyang as soon as possible. Her husband, former U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins, 62, may face a U.S. court-martial for desertion from the army in 1965 if he comes to Japan.

After reading the article last Thursday, Soga, apparently upset by the report, canceled a news conference that day, citing bad health.

Soga and the four other abductees returned to Japan on Oct. 15. Pyongyang has demanded that they return to North Korea, but Japan is refusing to send them back.

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