PM to Press Obama to Release Pollard

Netanyahu: I intend to act decisively to free Pollard, both because of Israel's moral responsibility toward him and also so that he is able to live among his family and restore his health after long period of incarceration

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to send a formal letter to U.S. President Barack Obama in the next few days to request the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen who has been held in a U.S. jail for 25 years for spying for Israel.

Though Israeli leaders have previously requested Pollard's release, this will be the first time Israel is sending such a letter to the White House.

pollard - AP - March 30, 2006
AP

"I intend to act decisively to free Pollard, both because of the State of Israel's moral responsibility toward him and also so that he is able to live among his family and restore his health after the long period of incarceration," Netanyahu said in a statement yesterday.

Netanyahu met Monday with Pollard's wife, Esther Pollard, and Lawrence Korb, who was the U.S. deputy secretary of defense when Pollard was arrested in November 1985. They gave him a letter from Jonathan Pollard in which he asked Netanyahu to ask the Obama administration formally and publicly for his release.

Korb told Netanyahu such a request was likely to free Pollard.

Korb wrote in an open letter to Obama in September that the life term to which Pollard was sentenced in 1987 was too harsh. He said it stemmed from former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's "almost visceral dislike of Israel."

In addition, four Democratic congressmen recently circulated a letter urging Obama to release Pollard as a way of moving the peace process forward.

A source in the Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu had asked whether making a public request could end up hampering efforts to free Pollard. He said Pollard's wife and Korb told him Pollard was prepared to take the risk.

Netanyahu pledged to consider the issue for 24 hours.

The prime minister met yesterday with advisers before deciding to send the letter, whose contents are expected to be made public after the appeal goes out.

PMO officials have informed the White House about Netanyahu's plan, but the prime minister has not been told what kind of reaction he can expect.

"We think this letter won't hurt Pollard, and it might even help in the efforts for his release," said an official in the Prime Minister's Office. "Pollard made a personal request of the prime minister on this matter, and in light of the moral responsibility toward him, it has been decided to meet the request."

Korb told Haaretz he didn't think Obama would be able to ignore the request and had high praise for Netanyahu's decision, adding that he expected Pollard to be released shortly.

Netanyahu asked Obama to free Pollard during their first meeting in the White House in May 2009, and he has raised the issue in at least five conversations with Obama or U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the past three months.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had also tried to secure Pollard's release, but the U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton, did not approve it.

Israel did not officially recognize Pollard as an Israeli agent until 1998, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. Netanyahu attempted to secure his release in 1998, but Clinton again decided against it.