JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States is talking with Israel about the possibility of releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from prison early, a person familiar with Mideast peace negotiations said Monday. That would come in exchange for Israeli concessions that would allow faltering peace talks with the Palestinians to continue beyond an end-of-April deadline.
The person cautioned that such a step by the United States — which would be a dramatic turnaround from previous refusals — was far from a done deal and that discussions with Israel on the matter are ongoing. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations on the record.
In return, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians. It was not clear what those concessions might entail.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials have consistently argued against releasing Pollard, who is serving a life sentence.
Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. He was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison.
Pollard could be released from prison on November 21, 2015 — 30 years after his arrest — because he was convicted and sentenced before the abolishment of parole in the federal prison system. He has been serving his sentence at a facility in Butner, N.C.
President Barack Obama has previously refused pressure to release Pollard.
Ahead of his trip to the Middle East last March, Obama told Israeli television station Channel 2 that Pollard "is an individual who committed a very serious crime here in the United States."
"He's been serving his time," Obama said. "I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who's been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review and the same examination of the equities that any other individual would provide."
The president said at the time that while he recognized the emotions involved in the situation, he had a responsibility to uphold the law.
"As the president my first obligation is to observe the law here in the United States and to make sure that it's applied consistently, he said. "There are a lot of individuals in prisons in the United States who have committed crimes who would love to be released early as well and I've got to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally."