Will U.S. free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to keep Palestinian peace talks alive?

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, seen during a 1998 interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C. AP

Last Updated Apr 1, 2014 8:55 AM EDT

JERUSALEM -- An official close to the Mideast peace talks said a deal was emerging to extend the troubled negotiations. It apparently includes the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for 400 Palestinian prisoners.

The official told the Associated Press the deal would extend the talks into 2015. He said it didn't include a freeze on West Bank settlement construction but that Israel would show "great restraint."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the deal with the media.

He said that under the deal, Pollard's release would take place by mid-month.

The U.S. has been negotiating with Israel and the Palestinians to extend talks past a late-April deadline. The months-long negotiations hit a snag when a planned prisoner release did not take place as scheduled.

And prospects for the transfer involving Pollard remained unclear, as a hard-line Israeli Cabinet minister said the convicted spy himself opposed being freed in exchange for Palestinians prisoners.

Uri Ariel said people close to Pollard had told him he opposes such a "shameful deal."

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave classified documents to Israeli handlers. He was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison.

The Obama administration has refused to comment on the reports that Pollard's release could be on the table to lure the Israelis to make concessions.

Deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Monday that "rumors about what may or may not be on the table is certainly not breaking news in terms of these negotiations."

"The discussions are private, they are ongoing," she added.

White House press secretary Jay Carney would only say Pollard "is a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I don't have any updates on his situation."

Pollard could be freed -- regardless of the negotiations over the peace talks -- after completing 30 years in U.S. prison, in November 2015.

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