- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Iraq's offer to allow a U.S. team to investigate the fate of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was carried by the government radio not just by Chinese and British wire services, as Bush administration officials asserted Monday.
Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, discounted Iraq's offer Sunday because they said it was not made through official Iraqi channels.
The State Department has begun high-level internal discussions on how to respond, administration officials said.
Meanwhile, a lawyer who represents Cmdr. Speicher's family, said there is a good chance he survived by ejecting from the aircraft and was captured by the Iraqis.
Cmdr. Speicher's wife and two children are "very optimistic" he is alive, said Cindy Laquidara.
"I can tell you that I believe it's far more probable that he's alive than he's not," Mrs. Laquidara said in a telephone interview. "I would say there's a 75 to 80 percent chance he's alive and that's pretty good."
Mrs. Laquidara said the administration should view the Iraqi offer to allow an inspection team in as a good first step. "We should pursue every avenue," she said.
Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters Monday that "we're not aware of any offer by the Iraqi government." He said the only fact about the offer was that it was "printed," presumably in newspaper reports.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that "we have reports that Iraqi officials told a Chinese news service" about Baghdad's offer to allow a U.S. team to discuss Cmdr. Speicher's case.
However, the official broadcast on Baghdad-based Republic of Iraq Radio Sunday night was translated from Arabic by the U.S. government within hours, U.S. officials said.
Quoting an unidentified Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman, the radio said the Bush administration has dealt with the case of Cmdr. Speicher "in a highly consistent manner."
The broadcast noted that in 1991 then-Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney told reporters on the night Cmdr. Speicher's F-18 was shot down that "the pilot died when his plane crashed."
The Iraqi radio broadcast also said the United States failed to investigate Cmdr. Speicher's fate from 1991 to 1995. "The U.S. authorities did not even ask for him as part of the POWs' lists in 1991, nor did they list his name as missing in action," the Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.
"The Iraqi authorities have nothing to add to the conclusions drawn by the U.S. team during its visit to Iraq in 1995," the statement said.
A U.S. inspection team visited Cmdr. Speicher's wrecked aircraft in the Iraqi desert that year and concluded the pilot had probably ejected.
The Iraqi statement said that U.S. officials presented a "fact-finding file" on the Speicher case to Iraq through the International Committee of the Red Cross, but the ICRC would not accept the file because a 1996 deadline for such requests had expired.
Then on May 11, 2001, the U.S. government presented Iraq directly with a file of information on Cmdr. Speicher and in July the Iraqis responded by providing information about the case, the statement said.
"This information is originally based on what the U.S. administration presented, which confirmed that Speicher was killed in that incident and specified the crash site," the statement said.
The statement concluded by saying that Iraq is "ready to receive a U.S. team to visit Iraq and discuss this issue."


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