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April 1, 2014 5:44 am
The US is discussing with Israel the possibility of releasing the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as it attempts to keep alive troubled Middle East peace negotiations.
US officials have raised the prospect of the release of Mr Pollard, a former US naval intelligence officer who has been in jail since his conviction for spying for Israel in1985, in an effort to keep Israel involved in peace talks with the Palestinians that are reaching a crunch point.
The acknowledgment by US officials that Mr Pollard’s release was being discussed comes as John Kerry, secretary of state, made an unscheduled trip to Jerusalem on Monday to try and salvage the talks.
When he announced the relaunch of peace talks in 2013, Mr Kerry set a deadline of the end of April to reach a final agreement between the two sides.
More recently, the US secretary of state has been working to try and agree a “framework” agreement that would allow more time for the talks and provide an outline of what has been resolved so far, while also specifying areas of disagreement.
However, even that more limited agreement has been difficult to finalise, leaving the talks teetering. Mr Kerry met with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, on Monday and was due to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, on Tuesday.
On Sunday he flew to Jerusalem at the last minute from Paris, where he held impromptu talks with Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, about the Ukraine crisis. It was the second time this month that Mr Kerry has interrupted travel plans to visit the Middle East.
Asked on Monday about the possibility of the release of Mr Pollard, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “He is a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I don’t have any updates on his situation.” When Israeli media reported last week that Pollard might be released, the Obama administration denied the reports.
The sorts of concessions that the US might hope to gain in return for the release of Pollard include the release by Israel of more Palestinian prisoners than it has already agreed to free, a freeze on some construction on settlements and an accord to continue with the talks.
The Israeli government has lobbied heavily over the years for the release of Mr Pollard, 59, who will have spent 30 years in a federal prison next November.
An intelligence analyst with the US Navy, Mr Pollard began spying for Israel in 1984, passing along information about Soviet weaponry. Fearing arrest in 1985, he unsuccessfully tried to enter the Israeli embassy in Washington before being arrested by the FBI. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
His possible release has been raised numerous times as a part of potential bargains with Israel, but in public US leaders have insisted that he deserves to remain in prison.
Asked about the case during his visit to Israel last year, Barack Obama, US president, said: “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately, but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who’s been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review that any other individual would provide.”
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