Netanyahu to Formally Call for Release of Convicted Spy Jonathan Pollard

White House spokesman says he is not aware that Obama is considering the possibility of granting clemency to Pollard.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will issue a formal public request in the coming days to U.S. President Barack Obama to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

This will mark the first formal request by Israel for the release of Pollard.


White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said in response that he was not aware that Obama was considering the possibility of granting clemency to Pollard.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 on charges of spying on the U.S. for Israel. He is incarcerated at a federal jail in North Carolina.

On Monday, Netanyahu met with Pollard's wife Esther, as well as Lawrence Korb, who was the U.S. assistant secretary of defense at the time of Pollard's arrest.

The two brought to Netanyahu a letter from Pollard asking that Israel formally request his release.

Korb said that such a request could lead to Pollard's release.

Netanyahu raised the concern that a public request could in fact hurt efforts to release Pollard. Esther Pollard and Korb said that it was a risk worth taking.

After consultations on Monday night and Tuesday morning, Netanyahu decided to send a formal letter to Obama on the matter.

"I intend to continue to act with determination for the release of Pollard, both because of the State of Israel's moral obligation to him and so that he can live with his family and restore his health after his prolonged incarceration," Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu has raised the Pollard issue with Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other American officials in recent months.

When Netanyahu was prime minister in the late 1990s, Israel acknowledged for the first time that Pollard had been an Israeli agent and also granted Israeli citizenship to Pollard. Netanyahu visited Pollard in prison and personally raised the matter with then-U.S. president Bill Clinton.