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Kerry in Israel for Talks on Prisoner Release, Extending Peace Talks


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Paris, March 31, 2014, for a trip to the Middle East to work on talks about the Middle East peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Paris, March 31, 2014, for a trip to the Middle East to work on talks about the Middle East peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, amid reports the U.S. may release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of a wider package to resuscitate Mideast peace talks.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told news agencies that Pollard's release is not a certainty, but that the possibility is "on the table."

Pollard, a Jewish American, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. He was arrested Washington in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to Israel and received a life sentence.

President Barack Obama and his predecessors have refused to release Pollard, despite pleas from Israeli leaders.

It is the second time in less than a week that Kerry has changed his schedule and come to the region to try to prevent peace talks from collapsing over the prisoner controversy.

Israeli leaders want the peace process extended beyond the end of next month before they release more prisoners, arguing that Palestinians will have no incentive to continue with talks once the detainees are freed. Palestinians say they will quit now if Israel refuses to release those prisoners, among them Israeli Arabs detained before the 1993 Oslo peace accord.

Israel promised to free this group as part of the deal that launched nine months of peace talks in exchange for Palestinians agreeing not to take diplomatic action against Israel at international organizations such as the United Nations.

As he has throughout these talks, Kerry declined to discuss publicly specifics of U.S. efforts to overcome the prisoner standoff.

"I think it would be inappropriate to get into any kind of judgements about what may or may not occur or happen because it's really a question between the Palestinians and the Israelis and what Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do," said Kerry.

Secretary Kerry met in Jordan with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last Wednesday before returning to Italy to join President Barack Obama's meeting with Pope Francis. Talks here come between a late Sunday meeting in Paris with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Tuesday's start of a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

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