BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq said on Sunday it was ready to receive a U.S. delegation to discuss the fate of an American pilot shot down over Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.
"Iraq is ready to receive any American team, accompanied by U.S. media, in order to discuss and document this issue under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.
In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he was unaware of the Iraqi offer, and would want to "see whether or not this is a serious proposition or whether Saddam Hussein is simply trying to change the subject."
Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was lost when his Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet was shot down on Jan. 17, 1991, the first night of the war.
Speicher, 33, had been listed as the first casualty of the Gulf War. Last year the Pentagon changed his status from killed in action to missing in action after persistent reports he survived and was being held captive. His tombstone is over an empty grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
In a search of the crash site in December 1995, investigators found the canopy, which ejects with the pilot, spent flares and a survival kit. They also found a tattered flight suit. But no trace of Speicher was found.
When the U.S. Navy changed his status to missing, the State Department asked Iraq, through the International Red Cross and other channels, for information about the flier.
Iraq says Speicher was killed without ejecting from the cockpit, though his remains were never found.
"We presume that he is dead," Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Al-Douri said Sunday. When asked why the Speicher case has again come to the fore, he said, "Really I think that's part of the campaign against Iraq."
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman, who was not identified, said the best way to solve "such mere technical matters" was through specialized legal channels. He did not elaborate.
The United States has warned Iraq it may become the next target in the war on terror unless it allows U.N. weapons inspectors back in the country to investigate Western claims the country is building weapons of mass destruction. Iraq insists it has destroyed all such weapons, and has barred inspectors since they left in December 1998.