Peres downplays US statement on Pollard
MKs say president should mull rejecting medal after White House allegedly denies request to release Israeli agent; Channel 10 quotes US sources saying chances of Obama agreeing to release aren't high.
Gil Hoffman - The Jerusalem Post - April 10, 2012
President Shimon Peres's office released a statement Tuesday downplaying initial White House reactions from US President Barack Obama to his formal request to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters Monday that the United States had not altered its stance on keeping Pollard behind bars.
"There's no change in our position," Vietor said.
But Peres's office said he had not received an official response from the White House and that Vietor's statement was issued before Obama had made a decision.
Committee For Jonathan Pollard spokesman Adi Ginsburg said Vietor's statement merely reflected the White House's policy until now.
"President Peres issued his request officially and personally to president Obama and we are all waiting for the official and personal response of Obama directly to Peres," Ginsburg said. "President Obama is the only one with the authority to commute sentences, so any declarations by any other officials are irrelevant."
Channel 10 diplomatic analyst Emanuel Rosen quoted high ranking American sources saying the chances of Obama agreeing to release Pollard were not high and that if he did commute his sentence, it would be done as a gesture to Peres. The sources also said it was possible that rather than release Pollard to Israel, he would be sent to an American protectorate such as Guam.
A source close to Pollard called the report "laughable disinformation designed to derail further efforts to secure Jonathan's release." The source called upon the Israeli public to intensify their efforts to bring her husband home "now before it is too late."
In his missive to Obama, Peres thanked him for the great friendship that his government has shown to the State of Israel and emphasized the concern felt in Israel in general and by members of Pollard's family in particular about his deteriorating health.
Peres noted that in view of Pollard's poor health coupled with the 26 and a half years that he had served, it would be viewed as a supreme humanitarian gesture if Obama would commute his sentence.
The heads of the Pollard caucus in the Knesset, MKs Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union), urged Peres to reconsider accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama is he rejects his request for Pollard's freedom.
Tirosh said she had been brought to tears by Vietor's statement, because she had hoped that Peres could succeed due to his close ties with Obama.
"The White House's answer is disappointing," Tirosh said. "Pollard is apparently just a political card for them. If I were Peres, I might not take the medal. I can't understand such wickedness."
Ariel said the quick response from the White House's spokesmen indicated that their behavior was "insensitive and borderline cruel." But he said he still had hope that Obama's official response would be positive.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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