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No ‘imminent’ resolution on Pollard case

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (JTA) — The case of Jonathan Pollard is not expected to be resolved “imminently,” according to the White House.

The comments Monday came in the wake of a meeting between Israel’s new point man on the case of the convicted spy and the White House counsel who is overseeing a high-level review of Israel’s request that President Clinton grant Pollard clemency.

Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was convicted of espionage in 1985 for passing secret U.S. military information to Israel. Pollard has served 14 years of a life sentence.

Moshe Kochnovsky, a top Israeli defense official appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to handle the case, met last week with White House counsel Beth Nolan, who took over this year for Charles Ruff.

Ruff was in the job last year when the president promised then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Wye River negotiations to conduct a review of the case.

Defense and intelligence officials, as well as many members of Congress, are strongly opposed to having the president commute Pollard’s life sentence because they maintain his activities damaged U.S. national security.

Various public officials and Jewish leaders have urged the president to grant clemency to Pollard for humanitarian reasons, arguing that Pollard’s sentence is harsher than those of other spies in similar cases.

Clinton has twice before rejected granting Pollard clemency — in 1993 and in 1996.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Kochnovsky’s trip was designed as a “fact-finding” mission to introduce him to the issues surrounding the case and does not signal any new Israeli initiative on Pollard’s behalf.

During his first tip to Washington after his election earlier this year, Barak said he wanted “to see Pollard released” to go to Israel, but signaled that his government would take a quiet approach to the highly sensitive issue.

Barak also suggested to Clinton during their first meeting that the fate of Pollard be separated from the peace process.

At the time of the Wye accord, Netanyahu believed that he had secured Clinton’s agreement to free Pollard.

Israel said at the time that in exchange, it had dropped its demand for the arrest of Palestinian Police Chief Ghazi Al-Jabali and had agreed to release additional Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu nearly walked out on the Wye agreement over the issue, and Clinton agreed to review the case.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart indicated on Monday that the review has been completed but no recommendation has gone to the president.

“As far as I know, they have checked in all the places they need to check in,” he said at his daily briefing. “But no recommendation has gone to the president.”

Lockhart added that he did not “expect anything to happen imminently on this” and said he expected the case of Pollard to be handled separate from the peace process.

Lockhart also said first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has not and is not expected to play a role in the decision.

The first lady, who has said she will run for Senate in New York, has been urged by Pollard supporters to take a stand on whether the convicted spy for Israel should be freed.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who will likely become Clinton’s Republican opponent for the Senate seat, has already said that Pollard’s life sentence is “way beyond the sentence served by other people that have been convicted of the same offense.”

Meanwhile, Kochnovsky also met with Jewish officials at the Israeli Embassy, according to one person who participated in the meeting.

Kochnovsky did not ask Jewish groups to take any action on the issue, the activist said.

Kochnovsky’s trip seemed “geared more toward taking the temperature of where the opposition is and why,” the activist said.

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