TOKYO (AP) – American Charles Jenkins, accused of deserting the U.S. Army to defect to North Korea, said Saturday he was prepared to travel for his family’s sake to Japan, where U.S. officials await to detain him.

The American ambassador in Tokyo, however, indicated Washington won’t seek his immediate custody, but will allow doctors to treat Jenkins, 64, who had been living for decades in North Korea.

Ambassador Howard Baker said there were no “immediate” plans for U.S. officials to seek out Jenkins when he arrives Sunday to be taken immediately to a Tokyo hospital, accompanied by his Japanese wife and their two children.

Jenkins is reportedly suffering abdominal problems following surgery in North Korea and may undergo another operation in Japan.

“Sgt. Jenkins’ medical condition may delay our request for his transfer to U.S. custody,” Baker said in a statement released after a meeting with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. “There are no plans for U.S. officials to see Jenkins in the immediate future.”

Baker’s remarks appeared to be at least a temporary final-hour understanding reached between Washington and Tokyo over Jenkins’ fate – an emotionally charged issue in Japan because of his wife, Hitomi Soga.

Soga, 45, was kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 to train spies in the Japanese language and culture. There, she met Jenkins, who allegedly abandoned his post on the South Korean border in 1965 to defect to the North. The couple married and had two daughters.

North Korea allowed Soga to return to Japan in 2002, but efforts by the Japanese government to bring her family were delayed in part by Jenkins’ fears that he would be turned over to U.S. authorities.

A bilateral agreement gives Washington the right to seek legal jurisdiction over Jenkins in Japan.

The family was reunited last week in Indonesia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

And Jenkins – who had refused an offer to accompany Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi back from a Pyongyang summit in May – said Saturday he had decided to come to Japan to keep his family together.

During a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to thank her for hosting the reunion, Jenkins appeared frail, walking with a stick.

But he was in good spirits, laughing and exchanging jokes with Megawati on footage shown by public broadcaster NHK.

A government chartered flight operated by Japan Airlines left Tokyo later Saturday to pick up the family in Jakarta.

Tokyo has been pressing for clemency, and Kawaguchi pleaded the humanitarian aspects of Jenkins’ case with Baker on Saturday.

Baker responded that Washington was “sympathetic to his health condition” but reiterated it has no intention of dropping demands that Jenkins face the charges against him.

It’s unclear whether Jenkins plans to turn himself in willingly or appeal the charges.

In a bizarre twist, Jenkins’ chances of going free could get a boost after Japanese immigration authorities said Friday they had detained former world chess champion Bobby Fischer.

Fischer has been wanted by U.S. authorities for attending a 1992 chess match in the former Yugoslavia in violation of international sanctions. He was caught earlier this week as he attempted to leave Japan for the Philippines using an invalid U.S. passport.

Though Tokyo hasn’t said what will happen to Fischer, handing him over could give Japan more leverage in the Jenkins case. Fischer has said he will appeal any extradition.

AP-ES-07-17-04 1902EDT

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