Washington plans to pursue a case against accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins, though it may not demand his immediate handover if he comes to Japan, the U.S. ambassador said Thursday.
Ambassador Howard Baker’s comments, made to journalists at the U.S. Embassy, came as Japanese officials said the 64-year-old American should be flown to Japan for medical treatment.
Baker said the U.S. government is “sympathetic” to Jenkins’ unspecified health problems, adding that Washington is not insisting he be treated at a U.S. military base hospital if he comes to Japan.
“If and when he comes to Japan we will ask for custody — exactly when remains to be seen,” Baker said.
“It’s certainly possible he could come to Japan, that the United States would insist on its rights, but that actual custody would not be sought or consummated under some circumstances.”
Jenkins, a North Carolina native, is accused of abandoning his U.S. Army unit on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 1965 and defecting to the North. He has lived in North Korea since then, and has appeared in propaganda films.
Baker said the United States had not swerved from its determination to pursue a case against Jenkins.
“As and when we can gain custody of him, he will be charged. With what and when and on what basis, I can’t tell you,” Baker said. “But it will be treated as the very serious incident that it is.”
However, Baker said Washington is sympathetic regarding the severity of Jenkins’ medical troubles.