Doctors treating an accused U.S. Army deserter in Japan said Friday his condition is not serious and he does not need urgent medical care, but more tests will be carried out.
Charles Jenkins, wanted by the United States for allegedly abandoning his Army platoon in 1965 and defecting to North Korea, has been hospitalized in Tokyo since arriving in Japan on Sunday. Japanese officials say Jenkins, who has lived in the North for nearly four decades, was suffering the after-effects of an operation performed in the communist state.
A Japanese hospital official said Friday that Jenkins had prostate surgery in North Korea. An official said previously that Jenkins underwent abdominal surgery.
The United States plans to pursue a case against Jenkins, including a possible court-martial, but it has not yet officially requested custody of him, citing humanitarian concerns over his health.
It was unclear if Japanese doctors' latest diagnosis would prompt U.S. officials to request his handover soon.
Citing privacy laws, doctors refused to specify Jenkins' current ailment. But the hospital's deputy chief, Dr. Atsushi Nagai, said: "After examining him, it appears there is no need for immediate medical treatment."
Nagai said that when he told this to Jenkins, the American "seemed to understand that he doesn't have a serious condition."
Jenkins is married to a Japanese citizen, Hitomi Soga. The two met in North Korea after Soga was kidnapped by Northern agents and taken to the reclusive country in 1978 to help train spies.
Soga was released by North Korea in 2002 and returned to Japan, leaving behind Jenkins and their two daughters.
The 64-year-old North Carolina native told doctors some details about his prostate surgery in North Korea, Nagai said. More tests over the next week will give doctors a better idea of how to treat Jenkins, said Nagai, who is heading the medical team caring for the American.
Although Jenkins had lost about 22 pounds in recent months, he has a decent appetite, doctors said.
Nagai confirmed that doctors also discussed their findings with a delegation from the U.S. Embassy on Friday at the hospital. The group, which included U.S. military doctors, did not meet directly with Jenkins, he said.
The U.S. Embassy refused to confirm the visit.
"We are continuing to consult with the government of Japan about Sgt. Jenkins' case," embassy spokesman Michael Boyle said. "If anything is going on, it is within the context of our consultations on this case, which are at many levels."
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he had not been told of the hospital meeting, but added, "I think it is part of our efforts to find a solution that satisfies both Japan and the United States."
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker echoed Koizumi's remarks but expressed impatience with the lack of progress.
"I think and I hope that Mr. Jenkins will face up to the reality that there has to be an effort to deal with the situation. It cannot go on indefinitely," he told reporters.
The national Asahi newspaper said Friday that Tokyo will discuss with Jenkins and his family a possible plea bargain with U.S. officials. Baker suggested the idea to Japanese officials, the daily newspaper said.
It has been a top priority of the Japanese government to reunite Jenkins with his wife.
The couple met in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this month, and Jenkins was persuaded to come to Japan for medical treatment despite the possibility of U.S. prosecution.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met Soga and wished her younger daughter, Belinda, a happy 19th birthday. Soga and her two daughters later emerged from the hospital to take their first stroll in public at a nearby park since arriving.
By Natalie Obiko Pearson
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