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Ha'aretz, January 10, 1999

Leading Jews to ask Clinton to free Pollard

Move aimed at counterbalancing CIA position against releasing convicted spy

By Nitzan Horowitz, Ha'aretz Correspondent and Reuters


WASHINGTON - Three leading U.S. Jewish figures plan to ask President Bill Clinton to delay any decision on clemency for the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard until they can personally state the case for releasing him, a Jewish leader said Friday.

The president's decision on clemency is expected in the near future, after a comprehensive examination of the issue is completed by the administration. Deliberations surrounding the issue are scheduled to end tomorrow, with conflicting speculation about the president's decision.

The intervention by the Jewish leaders is aimed at counterbalancing opposition to a Pollard release by U.S. security professionals, including CIA Director George Tenet, and congressional Republicans, who say his release would encourage the enemies of the United States.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz are preparing a letter to the White House asking for a meeting, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said.

"Our hope is that the president, more than anyone else, knows the value of mercy," Steinberg said, referring to the Monica Lewinsky affair. "What Jonathan Pollard did was utterly contemptible, but this delegation will appeal for his release on strictly humanitarian grounds, essentially asking only for mercy," Steinberg said.

Israeli officials also told Ha'aretz that the issue was now a humanitarian one, and that after the blow-up at the Wye Plantation, Israel wished to maintain a low profile in the handling of the affair.

"A consensus has emerged in the organized Jewish community of absolute condemnation of Pollard's crimes while asking for his release on strictly humanitarian grounds following more than a dozen years of imprisonment. I think everyone will agree that nearly 15 years of being jailed, including solitary confinement, constitutes deterrence," Steinberg said.

Clinton promised to review Pollard's case in October during the closing negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland for a U.S.-brokered interim peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The promise came after a surprise demand by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Pollard's release be included in the deal. Clinton in December asked the heads of the Justice, State and Defense departments and the CIA to report to him on the case.

This led to strenuous opposition to releasing the convicted spy. Seven former defense secretaries wrote the president a letter urging him not to release Pollard and two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Republican chairman, Richard Shelby, and the senior Democratic representative, Bob Kerrey, appealed to senators to increase the pressure on the president to leave Pollard in jail.

Shelby said releasing Pollard would be a dangerous and unwise precedent that would signal that crimes against the United States are not serious. He added that releasing Pollard would undermine the United States' ability to function as an honest broker around the world.

In response to Pollard's claim the material he gave the Israelis had been improperly denied to the U.S. ally, former senior intelligence officials said Pollard tried to transfer classified information to other countries before he made the deal with Israel. Justice Department officials also said that Pollard never fully cooperated with the Americans in their effort to estimate what secrets had been transfered to Israel.

Clinton has already started to receive reports from senior administration and intelligence officials. Official spokesmen refuse to supply any details about these reports, but sources say they are very negative. The White House emphasizes that there is no definite timetable for Clinton's decision regarding Pollard.



(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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