Amid a public push in Israel for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Israeli television Thursday that he had no immediate plans to grant Pollard clemency.
Obama said on Channel 2 News that Pollard, who is serving 28th year in federal prison as the only person in American history to receive a life sentence for spying for a U.S. ally, committed “a very serious crime.” The president said his “first obligation is to observe the law” in this case and “ensure it is applied consistently.”
“Lots of prisoners would like to be released early,” Obama said.
Leading up to Obama’s visit, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli and other Israeli celebrities signed a petition for his release that has garnered more than 155,000 supporters. Yityish Aynaw, the first Ethiopian Miss Israel, said she would ask for Pollard’s release when she meets Obama, and former CIA James Woolsey toldIsrael Hayom that there is “is no reasonable argument in favor of keeping [Pollard] in prison for so much longer than what is usually prescribed for spies that worked for friendly countries.”
The president in the TV interview addressed his reportedly tense relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the leaders have “a terrific, businesslike relationship” that is “blunt” at times. The two leaders “get stuff done” despite their differences, Obama said.
One major area of disagreement between Obama and Netanyahu has been the setting of a “red line” that, if crossed, would prompt U.S. military action against Iran over its nuclear program. Obama has thus far resisted Netanyahu’s calls for a red line, calling those calls “noise” in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” last year.
On Thursday, Obama told Channel 2 News that “it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close.”
“So when I’m consulting with Bibi as I have over the last several years on this issue, my message to him will be the same as before: ‘If we can resolve it diplomatically that is a more lasting solution. But if not, I continue to keep all options on the table,’” Obama said.