President Shimon Peres landed in New York on Sunday and kicked off an official visit to the U.S., the pinnacle of which will be his private meeting with Barack Obama on Wednesday. During this meeting, Peres plans to ask the U.S. president for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Peres will also meet with leading U.S. military and Pentagon officials. He is also scheduled to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Upon arriving in the U.S., Peres declared that "I have come to represent the entire State of Israel and say thank you to our greatest friend, the U.S."
"I plan to meet with senior defense and administration officials to discuss the strengthening of strategic ties between our two countries, methods of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and various developments in the Middle East – first and foremost the situation in Syria and advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Peres said.
A major issue Peres plans to raise with Obama is a personal request to pardon Pollard on humanitarian grounds, in light of Pollard's deteriorating health. Peres will arrive at the White House carrying a petition, asking Obama to do everything in his power to release Pollard, signed by 70,000 Israeli citizens, among them authors, Nobel laureates, actors, singers and also former Hamas hostage Gilad Schalit and his family.
One such supporter of Pollard's early release is former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich. "Pollard has paid a heavy price for his actions," Rabinovich said on an Israeli radio show on Monday. Rabinovich rejected speculation that the U.S. had refused to release Pollard until Israel was willing to divulge the identity of his alleged accomplice, saying that during his conversations with Washington regarding the matter, the suspicion that Pollard did not work alone never came up. "These claims are deliberately false", said Rabinovich.
Rabinovich pointed out that both the Intelligence and legal communities in the U.S. were pressuring the White House to refuse granting Pollard a presidential pardon. According to Rabinovich, Washington's anger is directed at Israel, and not Pollard himself. "Our hope is that one day there will be an American president who will finally release him."
Peres held several meetings Sunday, in preparation for his meetings with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday and for his special meeting with Obama Wednesday before the official ceremony.
Speaking with Israel Hayom, Peres talked about one of the main messages he will try to convey during his visit. "I am about to receive the Medal of Freedom, and it is important to understand that true freedom can never exist in the Middle East together with a nuclear Iran."