The United States refused to comment Tuesday on a report that Israel might seek the release of a convicted spy in return for extending a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.
Israeli Radio had reported, citing unnamed sources, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet was considering making such a proposal to Washington. Netanyahu's spokesman refused to comment on the report, as did the White House and U.S. State Department.
"I'm aware of the news reports," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman. "Really, no comment on any kind of deal or swap or suggestion of that."
Toner added that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have urged Netanyahu to extend the ban because it "makes sense" in support of ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.
The moratorium expires September 26, and the Palestinians have threatened to pull out of negotiations if it is not extended.
Netanyahu has been under international pressure to keep the freeze in place, but faces fierce opposition from ultra conservatives in his governing coalition. Netanyahu reportedly believes obtaining the release of convicted spy, Jonathan Pollard, would give him political cover if he extends the moratorium.
Pollard is regarded as a hero in Israel, but a traitor by the U.S. government. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for passing classified documents to the Israeli government in the 1980s while working in the U.S. Navy's intelligence unit.
Netanyahu has in the past asked U.S. presidents for clemency for Pollard, only to have those requests rejected.
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