WH: ‘No change’ in position on releasing former spy for Israel

The White House said Tuesday that there was “no change” in its position on Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of passing classified information to Israel.

The statement came after reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could condition additional peace talks with the Palestinians on Pollard's release.

“There's no change in our position on Pollard,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

On Monday, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu has repeatedly lobbied American authorities for Pollard’s release in recent months and indicated that Israel may insist on his freedom as part of negotiations brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry. 

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On Monday, more than 100 British lawmakers signed a letter to President Obama asking for Pollard’s release. Netanyahu met with Pollard’s wife, Esther, for just under an hour on Monday.

“He should have been released long ago,” Netanyahu said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “I think this is understood by everyone here and I believe it is also increasingly understood in the United States.”

According to the Channel 2 report, Netanyahu may insist on Pollard’s release when Kerry announces a framework for discussions early next year, or when Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners in April.

Pollard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government in 1986, after it was discovered that the former Navy intelligence analyst had passed tens of thousands of documents to the Israelis in return for cash and gifts. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Israel has spent much of the past decade asking for his release and granted him citizenship so he could live in Israel if he were freed. But top officials at the Justice and Defense departments, as well as within the intelligence community, have opposed his release, and so far no president has commuted his sentence.

The letter sent by Israeli lawmakers to Obama said that he president had in his hands “the right to grant him a final opportunity to complete his life as a free man.”

“We ask that you seriously consider the requests that there have been from top, current and former American officials and release Pollard on humanitarian grounds,” the letter said.