JAKARTA – Charles Jenkins, his wife Hitomi Soga and their North Korea-born daughters rushed to pack up and make other preparations Saturday on the eve of their closely watched trip to Japan.
But uncertainty remained over how Japan and the United States would deal with Jenkins, 64, who was due to travel to Japan on Sunday for medical treatment.
Washington is maintaining its policy of seeking his handover as an accused U.S. Army deserter but is expected to hold off on doing so as long as he remains hospitalized to address what it calls a “humanitarian situation.”
In Tokyo, U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker said he told Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in a meeting earlier Saturday that Washington “is sympathetic to his health condition and that Sgt. Jenkins’s medical condition may delay our request for his transfer to U.S. custody.”
“There are no plans for U.S. officials to see Jenkins in the immediate future,” Baker said in a statement issued after the meeting. But he reiterated that the United States “has the right to request the custody . . . and will do so at the appropriate time.”
In Jakarta, Japanese officials helping the family were busy making arrangements for the trip while contacting officials back home to set the stage for receiving them.
The family, which has been staying in a hotel in Jakarta since their reunion July 9, was scheduled to leave Sunday morning on a Japanese government-chartered flight and arrive at Tokyo’s Haneda airport in the evening.
Jenkins is then to be taken to a hospital in Tokyo, while Soga, 45, and the two daughters, Mika, 21 and Belinda, 18, will stay together at government-prepared accommodations.
The officials, led by Akitaka Saiki, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, were to accompany the family. Saiki escorted Jenkins and the two daughters from Pyongyang to Jakarta where they were reunited with Soga, who was repatriated to Japan in October 2002.
Jenkins, who initially refused to go to Japan for fear he would be extradited for a U.S. court-martial, has agreed to the visit given his poor health situation, which the Japanese government has judged as requiring treatment at a hospital in Japan.
Jakarta was selected as the reunion site because Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
A North Korean official who has been staying at the same hotel in Jakarta since accompanying Jenkins and the two daughters from Pyongyang said Friday that North Korea will respect the wish of the family to live together, indicating the North has agreed to let them go.
The official made the comments soon after meeting the family for the first time since the reunion, while the Japanese government officially announced Jenkins’ visit to Japan.
Responding to the announcement, however, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Flex Plexico said in a statement, “Sgt. Jenkins’ travel to any country would not change the position of the United States.”