Obama weighs costs, benefits of spy release

Obama weighs costs, benefits of spy release

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama faces a classic costs versus benefits conundrum as he considers whether to free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to save failing Middle East talks.

On the one hand, US-born Pollard, 59, is a trump card fast losing its value given that after 28 years behind bars, he may be freed on parole anyway next year.

However, the former naval intelligence analyst who turned over suitcases stuffed with US Cold War era secrets to the Israelis in the mid-1980s, is a cause celebre.

The intelligence and defence community for years dug in its heels over Pollard, on the grounds he was a US native son who took foreign cash to betray his country.

And there is no guarantee that his release now would buy anything more than a stay of execution for a peace process that appears to be going nowhere.

Pollard's name suddenly surfaced again in latest last minute diplomacy to save the US-brokered peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians.

US and Israeli sources indicated that his possible release from a North Carolina jail and repatriation to Israel where he is an honorary citizen, was on the table as both sides bartered over a deal.

The idea appeared to be to use the coup of Pollard's freedom to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu political cover to honour a scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners.

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