Peres to Obama: Release Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard

In personal missive, President cites convicted spy's deteriorating health; lobby says President should refuse U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom until Pollard is freed.

President Shimon Peres sent a personal letter to U.S. President Barak Obama on Monday, urging Obama to consider granting clemency to Jonathan Pollard, citing the convicted spy's deteriorating health.

Officials at Peres' bureau indicated that the president's diplomatic adviser handed the missive to U.S. envoy in Israel Dan Shapiro, with U.S. officials confirming that Obama received the letter in the afternoon.

obama peres - AP - April 5 2011

In a statement released by Peres, the president thanked Obama for what he said was the friendliness his administration has shown Israel, citing the Passover seder the American president held last week at the White House, and reiterating the importance of the value of freedom to the Jewish holiday.

Peres updated his U.S. counterpart on a conversation he conducted a few days ago with Esther Pollard, the convicted spy's wife, stressing that the Pollard family, as well as the Jewish people, were concerned about Pollard's health.

The president sent the missive after receiving a petition signed by 80 MKs, urging Obama to release the Jewish spy, as well as intense pressure from the lobby working to secure Pollard's release ahead of Peres' White House visit planned for June.

During that meeting, Peres is expected to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which, the Pollard lobby argues, the president should refuse until the convicted spy is released.

Peres' missive comes over a year after Netanyahu send a similar plea to the American president in January 2011, a letter which represented the first time Israel officially requested the spy's release.

Netanyahu since raised the Pollard during his several meetings with Obama, although he did not always receive a U.S. response.

Israeli officials estimated that, as with Netanyahu's attempts, Peres' missive serves, for the most part, as a declarative measure, one which won't likely draw out any U.S. reply and that won't advance Pollard's release.

Pollard, 49, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when, in the mid-1980s, he copied and gave to his Israeli handlers enough classified documents to fill a walk-in closet. He was given a life sentence.

Pollard, who was not paid when he began spying in 1984 but later began receiving several thousand dollars per month, was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy. He initially denied he worked for Israel, but later confessed.

His case has been a sticking point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government, which granted Pollard citizenship, repeatedly has pressed for his release.
A 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians nearly foundered when then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly linked his agreement to the deal with clemency for Pollard.