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Russia: US Urges Putin To Pardon Pope

Washington, 7 December (RFE/RL) - The U.S is urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon American businessman Edmond Pope. White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said today that Pope's conviction on charges of spying is "unjustifiable and wrong." Similar sentiment was expressed by State Department spokesman Phil Reeker.

Berger said the 54-year-old Pope, who has a history of cancer, should be released on humanitarian grounds.

Pope was convicted yesterday of stealing Russian defense secrets and sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison.

He has maintained his innocence.

The head of Russia's presidential pardons commission today said the body will recommend that Putin free Pope.

After Pope asked for a presidential pardon earlier today, Putin agreed to consider the request and referred the matter to the presidential pardon commission, which will meet tomorrow. Anatoly Pristavkin, the commission's chairman, said he expected a decision on a pardon to be taken quickly.

Pope, a retired U.S. Navy officer and businessman, was sentenced yesterday to 20 years of hard labor in severe regime for trying to obtain information about the Russian high-speed, underwater torpedo "Shkval."

The U.S. had repeatedly called for clemency in the Pope case, on the grounds both of Pope's innocence and his deteriorating health condition. Pope is suffering from a rare form of bone cancer.

Putin had said in a U.S. television interview in September that he might be prepared to consider a humanitarian gesture in Pope's case.

(For more details on the trial and the reaction in the aftermath of the verdict, see the two articles in today's Weekday Magazine.)