As Pollard battle heats up, supporters call for Clinton meeting

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WASHINGTON — As President Clinton nears a decision on whether to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard, three of the nation's most prominent Jews have asked for a meeting with the president to press Pollard's case.

And in one positive development for Pollard's supporters, Attorney General Janet Reno said she would postpone her recommendation until the three — Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman and Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz — had an opportunity to make their case. Government officials said they will offer a meeting with Reno or top Justice Department officials.

Meanwhile, opponents of the convicted spy are coming out of the woodwork in a concerted, unyielding effort to ensure that he remains locked up for life.

Most of Pollard's supporters in the Jewish community, by contrast, have opted for a more low-key approach to winning his freedom, recognizing it as a losing public campaign and instead hoping to quietly persuade Clinton with the force of their arguments.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Monday not to send a letter to Clinton requesting that Pollard be released.

Clinton received recommendations on Pollard's case this week from his senior national security aides, nearly three months after pledging a review at the signing of the Wye peace accords.

All remain adamantly opposed to releasing the former U.S. Navy analyst, who is serving a life sentence for handing over thousands of top-secret documents to Israel in 1984 and 1985.

The two top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have also weighed in, urging fellow senators to demand that Pollard remain jailed, as have seven former U.S. defense secretaries.

At the same time, senior members of the U.S. intelligence community are now saying that Pollard did more damage to national security than the public has been told.

Intelligence sources, breaking their long silence on the issue, released new information to The New Yorker magazine this week detailing four major U.S. intelligence systems they say Pollard betrayed. These allegations appear intended to undercut arguments that Pollard's admitted acts of espionage did no real damage to American national security.

Pollard told one of his supporters this week the new charges are "garbage."

Clinton has twice denied clemency to Pollard — in 1993 and 1996.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Clinton she believes there are no compelling foreign policy considerations to justify releasing Pollard.

In the face of the hostile anti-Pollard campaign, the Jewish community has remained comparatively quiet. Most of the organized Jewish community has remained on the sidelines.

However, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B'nai B'rith and the National Council of Young Israel have all sent letters to Clinton and to White House counsel Charles Ruff asking for leniency and for an opportunity to discuss the Pollard issue.