Russia Frees U.S.-Israeli Woman After Putin Pardon

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russia, Thursday. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov/Pool)

Russia freed a U.S.-Israeli woman on Thursday who had been jailed on drugs charges, after President Vladimir Putin granted her a pardon.

Naama Issachar’s release came ahead of talks in Moscow on Thursday between Putin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who flew in from Washington to pass on details of a U.S. peace plan, which Israel supports and Palestinians reject.

Netanyahu thanked Putin at talks in Moscow for what he said was a “swift” decision to pardon Issachar. Netanyahu has said he plans to meet her later on Thursday.

The release of the New Jersey-born 26-year-old is seen as a boon for Netanyahu, who had publicly appealed Putin to free her.

Issachar was jailed for seven and a half years after being arrested last April when police found nine grams of cannabis in her bags during a stopover at a Moscow airport on her way from India to Israel.

Her family called her treatment disproportionate and the case opened an unusual public rift between Russia and Israel.

“It has been a long journey that I would not wish upon anyone,” Yaffa Issachar, Naama’s mother, was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post, having traveled to Moscow for her daughter’s release. “Now, all I want is to hug my daughter Naama.”

Members of the Federal Penitentiary Service are seen at the gate of a penal colony, where Naama Issachar served her sentence, in the settlement of Novoye Grishino in Moscow region, Wednesday. (Reuters/Tatyana Makeyeva)

Meanwhile, Netanyahu came to Moscow on Thursday to discuss the U.S. Mideast peace plan with Putin.

Netanyahu told Putin as they sat down for talks in the Kremlin that he wants to discuss the plan and hear his opinion about it.

“You are the first leader I am speaking with after my visit in Washington for Trump’s Deal of the Century,” he said. “I think there is a new opportunity here, maybe even unique opportunity, and I’d like to discuss it with you and hear your insights.”

Trump called his plan a “win-win” for both Israel and the Palestinians, and urged the Palestinians not to miss their opportunity for independence. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan as “nonsense” and vowed to resist it.

Putin didn’t talk about Trump’s plan in his opening remarks, and Russian officials so far have refrained from comment — a careful stance reflecting the Kremlin’s desire to maintain warm ties with Israel and its hopes for rapprochement with Trump’s administration.