updated 8/6/2004 2:35:50 PM ET 2004-08-06T18:35:50

Japan hopes to resolve a potential custody battle with the United States over accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins soon, an official said Friday, as Jenkins prepared to discuss his legal case with a U.S. military attorney for a second day.

Jenkins, 64, is accused of deserting his Army platoon in South Korea in 1965 and defecting to the communist North. Since Jenkins arrived to receive medical treatment last month, Tokyo has urged leniency so he can live in Japan with his Japanese wife, whom he met in North Korea.

Washington says it intends to formally request custody of Jenkins but has yet to do so.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda didn’t say when he thought Jenkins’ ordeal might end.

“It’s better for this issue to be resolved soon, rather than have it drag on,” he told a news conference.

Hosoda said Jenkins would hold a second day of talks with legal counsel at the Tokyo hospital where Jenkins is staying. The lawyer is legally obligated to tell Jenkins about his options, which include facing a court-martial and seeking a plea bargain.

Details of talks kept secret
Japanese and American officials have refused to disclose details of the meeting, citing his privacy.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters Thursday his government would do all it could to help Jenkins, his wife, Hitomi Soga and their two daughters to settle in Japan.

Soga told Toru Hasuike, an activist for victims of Japanese abducted by North Korea, that Jenkins was not bedridden and was walking. Hasuike also told public broadcaster NHK after visiting her Friday that Soga said she hoped Jenkins’ legal situation could be resolved soon so she could take her family to her hometown on the island of Sado.

Soga has not directly addressed the media since she arrived in Japan last month with Jenkins and their two North Korean-born daughters.

Soga returned to her homeland in 2002 after being kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978 and spending decades in the North. Her story has drawn widespread sympathy from the Japanese public.

Several possible charges
Jenkins faces several possible charges, including desertion, which is the most serious and carries a maximum life penalty. He could also be prosecuted for charges ranging from aiding the enemy to encouraging other soldiers to desert their posts.

Jenkins has never been formally discharged from the Army and remains a sergeant. Under a mutual security pact, the United States can ask Japan to hand him over to face U.S. prosecution.

On Tuesday, Jenkins’ doctors at a Tokyo hospital announced that tests show he won’t need emergency surgery. But they said he needs more rest to recover physically and psychologically. He underwent prostate surgery before leaving North Korea.

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