Obama: ‘I Do Not Intend to Free Pollard Immediately’

YERUSHALAYIM - As pressure in Israel for the release of Jonathan Pollard has mounted ahead of President Barack Obama’s historic visit next week, the president addressed the issue in an interview with Israeli media on Thursday, sympathizing with pro-Pollard activists and explaining his role in the case.

“This is an individual who committed a serious crime, and he is paying the penalty. There is  a justice system in America that allows for periodic review of cases, and in the final analyis he may be released. My role as president in this system is to be sure that I have acted in accordance with legal rules and procedures.

“I do not intend to free Jonathan Pollard immediately. But I will make sure that — like every other American who serves a prison sentence — he will merit a review of the punishment meted out to him.

“I am well aware of the emotions that such a case generates. One of the sources of strength of Israeli citizens is the concern for their welfare wherever they may be. I am aware of it and I identify with it. But I think that everyone has to understand that as president, my first commitment is to act according to the laws of the United States and to make sure they are assiduously enforced.”

The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home reacted optimistically to Obama’s words, characterizing them as “a window of hope.”

Committee chairman Effie Lahav said, “The entire Israeli public feels the pain of every additional day that Pollard languishes in prison after suffering an unprecedented punishment in relation to the crime he committed.

“Having said that, we greatly appreciate President Obama’s words, both in relation to the words of senior American officials who have determined that American justice demands Pollard’s release, and in relation to the desire of the Israeli public to shorten his unprecedented punishment compared with anyone else who has committed comparable crimes.

“The feeling is that the president is coming to hear the voice of the Israeli public and its leaders. [I] will call upon everyone to continue to sign the petition for the release of Jonathan Pollard, which will be delivered to President Obama during his visit. Some 165,000 people have already signed.”