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The US Justice Department is considering whether to allow Julian Assange to plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports.

This would opening up the possibility of a deal that could eventually result in his release from a UK jail and that would end a long legal saga sparked by one of the biggest leaks of classified intelligence in US history.

Justice Department officials and Assange's lawyers have held preliminary talks in recent months about what this deal might look like.

Assange has spent nearly five years behind bars, and US prosecutors faced the prospect that he would remain behind bars for much longer even if convicted in the US.

At the same time, the respective negotiations are in an uncertain state, and they may come to nothing.

In February, a two-day hearing was held at the High Court in London to consider Assange's appeal against his extradition.

The aforesaid court is expected to make a decision on the matter by the end of March.

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