WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday equated his determined campaign to win the freedom of convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard with U.S. efforts to get back American soldiers missing in action.
In what amounted to a plea on Pollard's behalf to an American television audience, Netanyahu said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" that he hoped "the sense of mercy will prevail."
Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he was arrested 13 years ago and convicted of passing American intelligence secrets to Israel. On Friday, Netanyahu held up his final approval of the deal reached with the Palestinians at the Wye Plantation summit while he tried unsuccessfully to persuade President Clinton to agree to Pollard's release.
"I saw with admiration the way you [Americans] strove over many years to find every MIA, to get the people who served or worked on behalf of or fought on behalf of the United States or even spied on behalf of the United States, to get them home," the Israeli prime minister explained.
When Pollard was arrested, by contrast, Israeli officials portrayed him as a rogue agent operating outside official channels.
Netanyahu finally agreed to sign last week's interim peace agreement after Clinton said he would review the Pollard case. The Israeli prime minister said in the NBC interview that he did not raise the case at the last moment but had brought it up "some time ago."
Top Clinton advisors emphasized Sunday that the president had made no promises to the Israelis about Pollard's release.