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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
US asks Iraq about missing pilot
An F-18 takes off from a US aircraft carrier
Speicher's F-18 went down in a fireball
The United States is sending a diplomatic note to Iraq to ask for any information on the fate of a US pilot believed shot down during the Gulf War.

But US officials say they will not at present take up Iraq's invitation - made with conditions - to send a delegation to Baghdad to discuss the matter.

Michael Speicher
Speicher was the first US serviceman lost in the Gulf War

Lieutenant-Commander Michael Speicher, a US Navy pilot, was shot down in the first week of the Gulf War in 1991.

He was initially listed as killed in action, but there have been periodic reports that he survived the crash and is being held by Iraq - something Baghdad denies.

Campaigners in the United States have kept his case alive, and last year, the US Navy took the unusual step of reclassifying him as "missing in action".

'Goodwill gesture'

Earlier this year, Iraq said it was ready to receive a team from the US to investigate the pilot's fate, in what one Baghdad official called a "goodwill gesture".

US officials saw it more as a propaganda ploy, as Iraq had attached conditions to its invitation.

Baghdad demanded that any US delegation be accompanied by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter - now a critic of US policy on Iraq.

As well as Mr Ritter, Iraq wanted a delegation of US media to go along with the team "to cover and document" the visit, under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

But now, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has written to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, agreeing that Washington should send a diplomatic note to Iraq through the ICRC to try to confirm whether Baghdad is ready to provide any new information.

If Iraq responds, the administration could consider a possible meeting in Geneva, again under the ICRC, Mr Rumsfeld wrote in his letter, which was released by the Pentagon.

US officials have not completely ruled out sending a delegation to Baghdad, if it was clear that it would reveal new evidence.

Crash probe

Lieutenant-Commander Speicher's F-18 fighter jet was downed in a fireball over Iraq on 17 January 1991.

His case gained renewed public attention in the US after a Washington Times report said that British investigators had obtained information from Iraqi defectors that a US pilot was being held captive.

Although some military officials stressed caution over the veracity of such reports, others are convinced that the Speicher case must be resolved.

In 1995, US investigators located the crash site in Iraq and while their findings were inconclusive, they determined that the pilot could have ejected safely before the crash.


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25 Mar 02 | Middle East
12 Mar 02 | Americas
12 Jan 01 | Americas
01 Mar 02 | Politics
13 Feb 02 | In Depth
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
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