JERUSALEM - The United States is talking with Israel about releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard early from his life sentence as an incentive to the Israelis in the troubled Mideast peace negotiations, people familiar with the talks have told The Associated Press.
Pollard, an American Jew, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. Releasing him would be an extraordinary step underscoring the urgency of U.S. peace efforts.
Two people describing the talks cautioned that such a release — which would be a dramatic turnaround from previous refusals — was far from certain and that discussions with Israel on the matter were continuing. Both spoke on Monday only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks on the record.
NBC News was unable to independently confirm the report.
In return for the release, the people close to the talks said, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians in Middle East negotiations. Such concessions could include some kind of freeze on Israeli settlements in disputed territory, the release of Palestinian prisoners beyond those Israel has already agreed to free and a guarantee that Israel would stay at the negotiating table beyond an end-of-April deadline.
Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours late Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before sitting down with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and another Palestinian official. Kerry met again with Netanyahu on Tuesday morning before his scheduled departure to Brussels for NATO talks on Ukraine.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials have consistently argued against releasing Pollard, who the Israelis recruited to pass along U.S. secrets including satellite photos and data on Soviet weaponry in the 1980s. He was arrested by FBI agents in Washington in 1985.