Background: Premature to interpret White House and State Department comments on Pollard

Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA - December 23, 2010

Before PM Netanyahu even issued his formal request to President Obama to free Jonathan Pollard some in the media rushed to interpret the remarks of spokespeople from the White House and State Department as rejections of the yet to be submitted request.

It should be noted that the decision to free Jonathan Pollard is made by the President of the United States and not by the Secretary of State.

It should further be noted that while there is a very long standard Justice Department procedure for processing standard requests that the President is in no way obligated to subject a request to that procedure and can, at his sole discretion, opt to simply take out a pen and sign off on the papers releasing Pollard - as previous presidents have done in other cases - and as what was supposed to transpire at Wye.

Below are the relevant excerpts of the transcripts of the White House and State Department press briefings.

In the case of the White House, the spokesperson for the person who can release Jonathan Pollard at his sole discretion simply said he didn't know. A perfectly reasonable response considering that PM Netanyahu had not yet made the request.

As for the State Department spokesperson, and keeping in mind that the Secretary of State doesn't make the decision in this matter, it is particularly odd that the State Department spokesperson mentions the Justice Department procedure when he himself, in the very same briefing, alludes to the release of Pollard that President Clinton reneged on at Wye - a release that was slated to take place without that Justice Department procedure but instead simply via the signature of President Clinton.

Also in the case of the State Department, the spokesperson ultimately indicates that he is clueless as to what will actually transpire when President Obama receives Mr. Netanyahu's request.

It is thus premature to draw conclusions.

One thing is clear: at this juncture the logic and justification to release Pollard out of both considerations of justice and humanitarian concerns - along with the release as being an American confidence building measure - are so encompassing that an unprecedentedly broad spectrum of Americans can find their place inside the "release Pollard tent".

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 21, 2010
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/21/2010
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:15 A.M. EST

Q Question -- Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he's going to publicly and formally ask the President to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. One, I was just wondering if the President would seriously consider that request. And two, what sort of informal conversations have they had about Pollard?

MR. GIBBS: I would -- I don't know the answer to the second. Usually, as you know, most of their discussions have been done on a one-on-one basis. But I am not aware that that's something that the President is looking at doing.

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
State Department Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 21, 2010


1:55 p.m. EST ... QUESTION: P.J., Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he's going to ask - or I should say Prime Minister Netanyahu says he is asking for Jonathan Pollard to be released. Is the Administration inclined to do the prime minister any favors at the moment?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this would not be the first time that Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised this issue. But I'm not aware that he has made any formal request, which I believe it was part of his statement that he will raise this in a formal way with the United States Government.

QUESTION: Well, is the U.S. inclined to - would the U.S. be inclined to consider such a request?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is a - if such a request were formally made, there's obviously a legal process that would be undertaken to evaluate it.



QUESTION: Would the Administration be inclined to do this favor for Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as - I mean, again, since there's no formal request, it's hard to -

QUESTION: The guy just went on Israel radio and said he was doing - I mean -

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, look, this is an issue that Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised from time to time, both in his current incarnation and in his previous incarnation. All I can tell you is Jonathan Pollard remains in prison.

QUESTION: And the last time it was - in his last incarnation when he raised it, what was the - what happened?

MR. CROWLEY: Jonathan Pollard remained in prison.

QUESTION: That was during the Clinton Administration?

MR. CROWLEY: That was during the Clinton Administration.

QUESTION: And were there threats from people to resign if such clemency were granted?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not recall that kind - there were -

QUESTION: Seems to me you were in the thick of it.

MR. CROWLEY: There was -

QUESTION: If you don't recall, I'd be really surprised.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. There were spirited discussions about this issue.

QUESTION: And those spirited discussions, what came -

MR. CROWLEY: Resulted in no change in Mr. Pollard's status.

QUESTION: Exactly. Well, is there any reason to believe that if such spirited discussions were had again, there might be a different result?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, if the prime minister wants to raise this with the United States Government again, obviously it is his option to do so.

QUESTION: Well, let's take it away from the Pollard case and just in general, is the Administration at this moment inclined to do anything that the Israeli prime minister wants it to do as a favor --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- given the fact that he has done so many favors for you over the past year and a half?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, are - we continue to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on creating conditions for a framework agreement, and in the context of these issues, we will be happy to work with the parties on a variety of interests as we try to advance this effort. I don't want to make any bold predictions one way or the other, but we had meetings yesterday and today with David Hale, and Dan Shapiro yesterday talked to Yitzhak Molho. Today, they talked to Saeb Erekat. We will continue our consultations with the parties. We're looking for the right combination of circumstances that gets the parties to an agreement on the core issues. And we will do whatever we can do to help advance this process.

QUESTION: Well, getting -

MR. CROWLEY: In the context of advancing Middle East peace, if either the Palestinians or the Israelis want to raise with us issues of importance to them, we will consider all of this as we try to get them to an agreement.

QUESTION: So you would consider a request to release a person who was convicted of espionage -

MR. CROWLEY: I'm not -

QUESTION: -- almost of treason in relation to the -

MR. CROWLEY: I'm not passing judgment.

QUESTION: Well, I'm just wondering, are you -

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. Matt -

QUESTION: Are you willing to consider linking the two?

MR. CROWLEY: It is something that has come up in the context of Middle East peace, both past and present. We understand this is a matter of importance to the Israeli Government and to the Israeli people, but our focus is on achieving Middle East peace, and anything that we might evaluate in the future will be based on that context.

QUESTION: Does that imply that you see some kind of relationship between a convicted spy and -

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. What I'm -

QUESTION: -- Middle East peace?

MR. CROWLEY: -- saying is others may well see a connection, but again, as I said at the beginning, if the Israeli Government makes a formal request, there is a legal process overseen by the Department of Justice to evaluate such requests.

QUESTION: You're suggesting that there might - that you -

MR. CROWLEY: I'm not suggesting anything. I'm just - you, as a matter of a statement of fact, said that in the context of Middle East peace, in 1998, the Israeli Government raised this issue with President Clinton. That is a fact. And in the context of Middle East peace, the Israeli Government has raised this with the Obama Administration, and as indicated by the prime minister, may well raise it again.

We understand that this is an important issue to the Israeli people. And we are willing to - if the Israeli Government makes a formal request, we have a legal process that allows for the evaluation of such requests. I can't predict what we'll do in the future --

QUESTION: All right. Well, there is also --

MR. CROWLEY: -- other than saying that there is a legal process if such a request is forthcoming.

QUESTION: Well, my understanding was that the legal process for Mr. Pollard himself was that he is eligible - he's not eligible for parole until 2015. Are you saying -


QUESTION: You're saying that there's a way that that can be sped up in the context of Middle East peace?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, you're asking me to predict the future, Matt. I can't do that.

QUESTION: Well, it seems to me that you're leaving the door open to making some kind of a concession to the Israelis --

MR. CROWLEY: No, what I'm --

QUESTION: -- that is really irrelevant to the --

MR. CROWLEY: -- I'm just simply noting the fact this has come up before. It could well come up in the future. Beyond that, I'm not making any predictions whatsoever.

QUESTION: So has it been approached as part of a larger Middle East peace deal? Could it be part of a larger deal in this case?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, you're asking a hypothetical, Said. The prime minister today said he plans to raise this issue in some formal way with the United States Government. If and when he does that, there is, in fact, a formal process for us to review those kinds of requests, and that formal process exists within the Department of Justice. All I said was this is an issue that has come up before, and it could well come up in the future.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. --

QUESTION: Could we have a --

QUESTION: -- Government ever brought up the - ever brought this up in the context of Middle East peace?

MR. CROWLEY: Have we brought it up?


MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Could we have a status report on the mission of Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Hale and what they've done in --

MR. CROWLEY: They will be returning to the United States today, having completed consultations with Mr. Molho yesterday and Mr. Erekat today.


Dr. Aaron Lerner is Director of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)