Netanyahu Proud to Push for Pollard

October 26, 1998 - Dina Kraft - Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he will not apologize for using last week's Mideast summit to push for the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from a North Carolina prison.

Netanyahu was harshly attacked in Israel for linking the land-for-security agreement with the Palestinians to the release of Pollard, a move that delayed the festive signing for several hours and reportedly infuriated Clinton administration officials.

Asked to comment on those reports, Netanyahu told Israel's army radio Monday: "Not only will I not apologize, I am proud that I stand up for him (Pollard) and I will continue to do so."

Netanyahu said he was confident he will eventually win the release of Pollard, who has been serving a life sentence in the Butner, N.C., federal prison for spying for Israel. He turned over classified U.S. military documents to Israel.

Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst who was granted Israeli citizenship by Netanyahu's administration in 1996, has been in prison since 1985. Previous governments had sought to distance themselves from Pollard. Netanyahu said Israel had a moral obligation to try and get Pollard released.

"The man worked for us and our security," Netanyahu said. "He made a mistake. He should not have done what he did and Israel made a mistake by doing what it did against the United States. But he has been paying the price for 13 years and we need to get him out of there."

Pollard, however, sharply criticized Netanyahu, saying that leaks to the press claiming he would be released were a deliberate attempt "to blind the Israeli people to the government's ongoing betrayal of one of its agents." Netanyahu's stance on security, he said, was hypocritical.

"You cannot sit with the Americans and pretend to be a guardian of Israel's security while you sit back and let one of your own agents rot in their hands," Pollard told Israel radio Sunday.

Netanyahu has denied press reports that he sprung the Pollard card on Clinton during the last day of summit negotiations. He said he pushed for Pollard's release throughout the talks.

Clinton promised to review the Pollard case, but emphasized he was making no promises regarding the outcome.