U.S. poised to respond to Baghdad's offer on missing pilot
July 10, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Diplomatic and defense officials here have agreed to respond to Iraq's offer to let a search team go there to investigate the fate of a Navy pilot missing since his plane was shot down during the Gulf War, according to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.
Nelson said Wednesday he received word from defense officials that Secretary of State Colin Powell likely will be responding to a 3-month-old offer from Baghdad via a "diplomatic note" to be sent to Iraq through the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.
The decision to explore the offer - on the table since early April - comes after the Senate two weeks ago passed legislation by Sens. Nelson and Pat Roberts requiring defense officials to more fully investigate the fate of the missing Navy pilot, Captain Scott Speicher, of Jacksonville.
Nelson on Wednesday applauded the decision by Powell, made in conjunction with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We need to be skeptical of anything Iraq offers," Nelson said, "but confirming whether they have new information about Captain Speicher is the right thing to do."
Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet, flying off the USS Saratoga, was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, on the opening night of the Gulf War. The 33-year-old pilot was first listed as killed in action. Last year, the Pentagon changed his status to missing in action based on intelligence reports that he might still be alive and held captive in Baghdad. A Central Intelligence Agency report concluded he probably survived the crash and was captured.
The Iraqi government reportedly announced on its official radio March 24 in Baghdad it would allow U.S. inspectors to visit Iraq to "discuss" the case. A day after the announcement Rumsfeld expressed skepticism about the offer. However, in a note to Powell two days ago, he agreed the U.S. should respond to Iraq through the Red Cross. "I completely agree we need to explore every avenue to resolve this case and that we should respond to the Iraqi offer," Rumsfeld wrote.