- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

The Iraqi government yesterday repeated its offer to allow a U.S. team of inspectors to visit Iraq and resolve the fate of missing U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher.
"Iraq's initiative to receive an American team to probe the fate of Speicher is serious," an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency in Baghdad.
The ministry notified the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Tuesday that it is ready "to receive a U.S. team and to take all measures necessary to implement this initiative," the Iraqi spokesman said.
"If the United States is serious in its quest to know the fate of the American pilot after dropping his file for long years, it should notify the ICRC its acceptance of the Iraqi offer," the spokesman said.
The State Department is waiting for a formal response from Iraq, either to its January 2001 diplomatic note requesting data on Cmdr. Speicher, or through the ICRC at a special three-party commission in Geneva.
A spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva said yesterday that there has been no formal notice sent by Iraq on the missing pilot. A State Department spokeswoman had no comment on the latest developments on the offer by Iraq.
Iraq first made the offer on Sunday in an official government radio broadcast. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said a U.S. team could come and "discuss" the case, provided it allows the U.S. media to take part and to bring former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter to take part.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Monday that there had been no offer from Iraq to investigate the case, only press reports.
The State Department also said Monday it was discounting the Iraqi offer because it was not made through formal channels. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Baghdad, one of three states President Bush has labelled an "axis of evil."
Cmdr. Speicher was declared killed in action after his F-18 was shot down over Iraqi on the first night of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
New information obtained by the Pentagon since then led to Cmdr. Speicher's reclassification as missing in action last year.
A U.S. intelligence community report produced last year stated that Cmdr. Speicher probably survived the 1991 crash, and if he did was almost certainly captured by the Iraqis.
The case of the missing pilot has generated new government and public interest in the past several months.
New intelligence information, first disclosed by The Washington Times March 11, revealed that an American pilot was reported alive in prison last year by a person who had been inside Iraq. The source said an American pilot was confined in a special prison and was only seen by senior Iraqi officials.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has asked the Pentagon to classify Cmdr. Speicher as a prisoner of war.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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