Netanyahu asks Clinton to free Pollard

December 13, 1998 - Laurence McQuillan

JERUSALEM, (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Jonathan Pollard, jailed by the United States for spying for Israel, had acted inexcusably but asked U.S. President Bill Clinton to free him anyway.

Clinton, on a Middle East peace-saving mission, said he expected to make a decision on Netanyahu's request to free Pollard -- who has been in prison for 13 years -- after receiving recommendations by January for and against the idea.

Pollard, an ex-U.S. navy analyst, was sentenced to life in prison for passing secrets to Israel. He has since obtained Israeli citizenship and the Israeli government, which at first called him part of a rogue operation, has since admitted running him as a spy.

Pollard became a last-minute stumbling block in the Middle East peace accord reached in the United States in October by Clinton, Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Clinton agreed to review the case.

"Jonathan Pollard did something bad and inexcusable. He spied in the United States. He collected information on behalf of the Israeli government," Netanyahu told reporters at a joint news conference.

"All I have appealed to President Clinton for is merely a humanitarian appeal. It is not based on exonerating Mr Pollard. There is no exoneration for it. It is mainly that he has been virtually in solitary confinement for 13 years. It's a very, very heavy sentence.

"Since he was sent by us on a mistaken mission, not to work against the United States but nevertheless to break the laws of the United States, we hope that with a humanitarian appeal a way will be found to release him," Netanyahu said.

"It is not political. It is not to exonerate him. It is merely to end a very, very sorry case that has afflicted him and the people of Israel."

In October, Pollard said he was rotting in jail because Netanyahu had failed to secure his release at the peace summit. Seven former U.S. defence secretaries have urged Clinton to reject Israel's appeal to release Pollard, saying to give Pollard clemency would encourage U.S. enemies.

Clinton promised to get the opinions from both sides of the issue and to decide promptly.

"We have instituted this review, which as I said is unprecedented. We are giving everyone time to present their comments and I will get comments on both sides of the issue, evaluate it and make a decision," Clinton told reporters.

But Pollard's wife Esther Pollard, responding to Clintons remarks, said the U.S. administration had yet to solicit "an unbiased objective review of the facts".

See Also:
  • Letter to the Jerusalem Post
  • Letter To President Clinton from Pollard's Attorney