WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking President Obama for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release.
Netanyahu said Tuesday he would formally ask Obama to set free Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.
A number of Jewish groups routinely request Pollard’s release each December, when presidents consider how to apply their executive privilege to pardon the convicted or commute their sentences.
Netanyahu’s request could be tied to considerations of peace talks with the Palestinians, which are mired in an impasse over settlement building.
The last time Netanyahu sought such a release, during his previous stint as prime minister in 1998, it was linked to peace talks with the Palestinians. President Clinton considered the request but turned down Netanyahu at the behest of his intelligence agencies.
Opposition to Pollard’s release has receded somewhat since then, as 2015 — the year his life sentence lapses under guidelines in place when he was arrested — draws closer.
A group of Democratic congressman led by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently called again for Pollard’s release, citing both humanitarian concerns and the jolt the release may give to the peace process.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister would seek Pollard’s release; it did not say if he would seek a pardon or commutation.
Pollard’s wife, Esther, in a meeting Monday with Netanyahu, asked on behalf of her husband that the prime minister make an official request. Netanyahu reportedly questioned whether that would do more harm than good. He said he has raised the issue privately six times in meetings with Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but so far to no avail.