Cabinet minister Moshe Arens, Israel's former ambassador to the United States, returned here today following an unpublicized visit to Washington to discuss the terms of questioning by U.S. officials of Israeli officials who have been implicated in the Jonathan Jay Pollard espionage case, Israeli radio and State Department officials reported.
Arens, a minister-without-portfolio, met tonight with Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to discuss the case against Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, who was arrested on Nov. 21 after attempting to gain asylum in the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Arens refused to answer reporters' questions upon his return today, and aides to Peres would not discuss details of his mission to Washington or of tonight's meeting.
[A State Department spokesman confirmed that Arens was in Washington Thursday and met with Secretary of State George P. Shultz. But the spokesman said the State Department had no comment about the content of the talks. U.S. officials also noted that Arens was in Washington for talks on Nov. 22, the day after Pollard's arrest.]
Amid indications that Labor Party and Likud bloc members of the national unity coalition government have agreed that domestic political interests should be subordinated to a unified Cabinet position on the Pollard affair, the government has tightened a curtain of secrecy around the case.
But official sources said the purpose of Arens' trip was to establish the limits of "interviews" that a team of U.S. Justice Department investigators will conduct here this week with two Israeli diplomats recalled from the United States last month, and with Rafael Eitan, a former adviser on counterterrorism to Peres and former prime minister Menachem Begin.
Eitan, a former operations chief of Israel's external intelligence service, the Mossad, reportedly was the senior Israeli official involved in recruiting Pollard and controlling his alleged espionage activities.
Trade Minister Ariel Sharon, Eitan's close political ally and former supervisor in the prime minister's office of national security in the mid-1970s, is understood to have indicated to Peres that he will not oppose the dismantling of the intelligence unit headed by Eitan that operated under the cover of a technical data-gathering office called the Science Liaison Bureau.
The U.S. investigating team, headed by the State Department's legal adviser, Abraham Sofaer, probably will arrive in Israel on Tuesday and begin its interviews on Wednesday, official sources said. Also on the team are Joseph diGenova, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard; John C. Martin, in charge of espionage investigations at Justice, and at least one FBI investigator.
Official sources said the team has expressed a desire to finish its interviews as quickly as possible but had no estimate of how long it would be in Israel. One diplomatic source said that will depend on how many Israeli officials the interviewers will see, and whether further negotiations are needed to establish which documents allegedly stolen by Pollard and sold to Israeli contacts will be returned.
In addition to Eitan, the U.S. investigators are expected to question the two diplomats who returned to Israel after Pollard's arrest -- Ilan Ravid, a deputy science attache at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and Yosef Yagur, a science officer at the Israeli Consulate in New York. Both have been reported to have been Pollard's contacts in the United States.
The U.S. officials are understood to want to question the Israeli officials on the recruitment of Pollard and whether he supplied stolen documents to other foreign contacts. During FBI interrogation, Pollard reportedly said he sold documents to Pakistan and East Germany, but that has not been verified.
Besides Arens, Israel sent two officials to Washington to negotiate the terms of Israeli cooperation in the case -- Hannan Bar-On, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, and Ram Caspi, a Tel Aviv lawyer on special assignment to Peres' office. Israeli officials said negotiations were held throughout last week to establish the ground rules of the visit here by the U.S. team. They stressed that all of the team's meetings with Israeli officials implicated in the case will be in the form of "interviews" and not sworn testimony or depositions.
"There's no disagreement with the United States on what they will be allowed to ask and whom they will be allowed to see," an Israeli official said. He said all of the documents requested by the American investigators will be returned. But the official said Ravid and Yagur are still registered as employes of the embassy and consulate in the United States and will retain full diplomatic immunity.