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Obama undecided on Israeli spy Pollard’s release

Spy's release could boost hopes of extending flailing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians

Published: Updated:

U.S. President Barack Obama has so far made no decision to free U.S.-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in a bid to save faltering peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, reports say.

Israel has repeatedly requested from U.S. presidents to release Pollard, who is serving a life sentence he received in 1987 in North Carolina.

Pollard was accused for passing U.S. secrets on Arab and Pakistani weapons to Israel during the mid-1980s.
He is eligible for release from November next year.

Sources in Israel quoted by Agence France-Presse said a deal to free Pollard was emerging in talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Israeli government. The deal would involve releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners and peace talks would get a reprieve into 2015 in return for Pollard's release.

The White House indicated on Tuesday that no deal had yet been agreed, and refused to go into details of Kerry's talks.

"The president has not made a decision to free Jonathan Pollard," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Palestinians sign treaties to press Israel

The news comes as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Tuesday received a blow by a speech in which the Palestinian leader said he would press for U.N. recognition over Israel's strong objections.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also signed a decision to join 15 international agencies and treaties on the day, after Israel failed to release prisoners as agreed and halt settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian lands.

“The Palestinian leadership has unanimously approved a decision to seek membership of 15 U.N. agencies and international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Abbas said on television after signing the demand during a meeting at his Ramallah headquarters.

“We are not against America who is helping us and we do not want to use this right to confront anyone and we will continue in negotiations,” Abbas added.

Shortly after the announcement, a senior State Department official said Kerry had cancelled plans to travel Wednesday to Ramallah.

Kerry told reporters at NATO headquarters on Tuesday called on both sides to show restraint.

The top U.S. diplomat said Abbas had agreed to keep his promise to continue negotiating with Israel until the end of the month.

“Even tonight, both parties say they want to continue to find a way forward,” Kerry told reporters after meeting his NATO counterparts in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
Kerry, who has been working for months to try to broker an elusive peace deal, insisted it was too early to draw any conclusions on the fate of the process.

"It is completely premature tonight to draw... any final judgement about today's events and where things are. This is a moment to be really clear-eyed and sober about this process," he said.

(With AFP and Reuters)