White House again turns Pollard down

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House has closed the door on Jonathan Pollard's quest for a pardon.

White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta says that President Clinton opposes an early release for the confessed spy for Israel at this time.

Appeals on Pollard's behalf are being "looked at," Panetta said, but "it is not a position that the president at this point, in terms of a pardon, feels is justified because of the act that he was convicted of," Panetta said this week over CNN's call-in news program, "Late Edition."

Pollard, a former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty 10 years ago to stealing secrets for the Israeli government. He is currently serving a life sentence.

Pollard was eligible for parole late last year, but the date for a meeting of the parole board has been delayed several times.

But Pollard now is not seeking parole, according to Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of AMCHA-Coalition for Jewish Concerns and Pollard's personal rabbi.

Weiss, who spoke to Pollard Sunday, said he has "suffered mercilessly in prison over the last 10 years," and was "understandably upset" when he heard about the CNN program.

"I am distressed because it was so emphatic," Weiss said of Panetta's remarks. "I really think it is a slap in the face of the [Israeli] prime minister who made a very serious request that Jonathan be freed."

In one of his last meetings with Clinton, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin urged that Pollard be released.

A caller to the CNN program from Tel Aviv said a majority of Israelis believe it would be a humanitarian gesture to free Pollard.

"I recognize and respect the views that you've expressed," Panetta responded. "The concern we have is that this is someone who was caught spying against the United States, and obviously is paying a penalty for that."

Both Rabin and Shimon Peres have appealed to both Presidents Bush and Clinton for Pollard's clemency.

In addition, many American Jewish organizations have called for a presidential pardon or for Pollard's sentence to be commuted to time served.

Peres' government recently granted Pollard's request for Israeli citizenship.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials in Washington denied a published report that Pollard cut short a prison meeting with an Israeli consul official this week, ostensibly because he felt the official was not high-ranking enough.

The Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported Monday that Atlanta Consul Eitan Surkis-Almog visited Pollard at the federal prison in Butner, N.C. Pollard reportedly said that the U.S. government would not take his case seriously if the Israeli government did not.

Pollard had earlier demanded a meeting with Israel's ambassador to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich.