- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

MIAMI, Jan. 17 (UPI) — Two senators will use a fact-finding mission to the Middle East next week to try to gather information about missing Navy pilot Scott Speicher.

The trip by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was announced Friday at a rally on the 12th anniversary of Speicher's disappearance over Iraq.

Nelson and Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are among a group of 10 senators from that committee and the Armed Service Committee visiting countries in the region.

Organizers have not disclosed if the group will visit Kuwait, where a meeting is set next week to discuss hundreds of Kuwaitis who have been missing since the Persian Gulf War. Nelson and Roberts have asked officials from Kuwaiti and the Red Cross to help them seek information on Speicher during the meeting.

"Because of the sensitive nature of the trip, the countries and the times we'll be visiting are being kept classified, but I can tell you that at each step Pat Roberts and I will be taking up the Speicher issue," Nelson said.

Speicher, based at Jacksonville/s Cecil Field, was at first declared dead, but last year the Navy from changing his status to missing in action and again last year to "captured."

The changes were influenced by interviews with Iraqi defectors and a 1995 analysis of Speicher's FA-18 Hornet and flight suit.

Nelson traveled to the Middle East last year and talked to U.S. allies to help find information. He said he is optimistic about this trip.

"This could be a good chance for us to get some information about what happened to Captain Speicher," he said.

Roberts' office confirmed the Kansas senator would be trying to unravel the mystery.

"Senator Roberts does plan on inquiring about Scott Speicher at every step," said a spokeswoman.

Speicher's family in the Jacksonville area also has some hope as a result of the trip.

"They're a lot closer to finding information over there than sitting in Washington or I am sitting in Jacksonville," said family attorney Cindy Laquirdara.

"It was a real boost to the family to hear that these two senators are going over there," she said.

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