TOKYO (AP) – Alleged U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins said Wednesday he would surrender to U.S. military authorities to face charges he deserted his post along the demilitarized zone dividing north and south Korea in the 1960s.

Separately, in an interview published in the Hong Kong-based magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, Jenkins was quoted as saying he detested the North Korean government and tried to escape shortly after he arrived.

Jenkins, who left North Korea two months ago for the first time since he allegedly defected in 1965, said in a statement issued through his military counsel that he hoped “very shortly” to leave his Tokyo hospital room to go to a U.S. Army base outside the Japanese capital. He didn’t provide a time frame.

“It is my intention,” he wrote, “to begin the process that will bring closure to my pending legal situation.”

The 64-year-old North Carolina native faces allegations he deserted the Army, a charge carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison. He also could be prosecuted for charges ranging from aiding the enemy to encouraging other soldiers to desert their posts.

His offer to surrender was a major step toward solving a diplomatic quandary between U.S. military officials eager to prosecute him and Tokyo, which hopes to win him leniency so he can live in Japan with his Japanese wife.

The Japanese government welcomed Jenkins’ statement and promised to continue helping him resettle in Japan with his wife, who was kidnapped by North Korean spies in the 1970s, and their two North Korean-born daughters.

“We can’t tell what will happen, but for now, I think this is a good move, because it seems that Mr. Jenkins has made his own decision and chosen this path,” Hiroyuki Hosoda, Japan’s top government spokesman, said at a news conference.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also pledged his support.

“We will continue to do all we can to help so the family can live together in Japan,” Koizumi told reporters.

Jenkins’ case is the subject of intense interest in Japan because of enormous public sympathy for his wife, Hitomi Soga, who was snatched by North Korean agents from her coastal hometown in 1978 and taken by boat to North Korea. She married Jenkins three years later. North Korea allowed her to return to Japan in 2002.

Koizumi has made bringing home Japanese abduction victims and their families from North Korea a top priority. North Korea has admitted kidnapping at least 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to teach Japanese to North Korean agents. It allowed the five it said survived, including Soga, to return to Japan.

Reflecting the importance his government places on the case, Koizumi made a rare personal appeal to President Bush for leniency at a June summit meeting. Bush stressed Jenkins was wanted on four serious charges and agreed only to “keep in touch” with Koizumi.

With the United States interested in intelligence on the reclusive communist North, a Bush administration official has said the former soldier might improve his legal situation if he gave U.S. officials useful information.

James B. Craven III, who is representing Jenkins’ family in the United States, said Jenkins’ statement suggested he had struck a deal with military prosecutors.

“I think that means that a plea agreement has been worked out – in fact, I’m sure that’s what it means,” Craven said from his home in North Carolina.

The Far Eastern Economic Review article, published Wednesday, cited legal documents filed on Jenkins’ behalf saying he tried to flee North Korea in 1966. In an interview from his hospital room, he said he and his wife both opposed the regime.

“My wife and I became very close … because she hated the (North) Korean government as well as I,” the article quoted Jenkins as saying.

Jenkins didn’t discuss the circumstances of his disappearance across the demilitarized zone on the advice of his military lawyer, the report said. Citing a legal document, however, the article said Jenkins admitted to being guilty of one of the charges against him, though it didn’t say which one.

The magazine said Jenkins would base his legal defense in part on claims he cooperated with the communist regime to avoid the death penalty and keep his family together. Jenkins has also offered to provide information on the use of foreign nationals in the North Korean spy program.

Since arriving in Japan in July, Jenkins has been recuperating in a Tokyo hospital from complications of prostate surgery he had in North Korea.

Jenkins said in his statement he was gaining strength daily and hoped soon to be healthy enough to leave the hospital for Camp Zama. He said his wife, daughters, and lawyer would travel with him to the U.S. base.

Jenkins met with his independent counsel – identified by Japanese media as Capt. James Culp – at the hospital Wednesday, but there were no signs he planned to check out immediately.

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