JACKSONVILLE, Fla., April 16 (UPI) -- Sen. Bill Nelson is asking U.S. allies in the Middle East for help in finding missing Jacksonville pilot Scott Speicher, whose FA-18 Hornet was shot down over the Iraqi desert on the opening night of the Persian Gulf War.
Speicher was originally listed as killed in action, but last year intelligence reports indicated he survived, was captured and became a prisoner in Baghdad. The Pentagon changed his status to missing in action after that report, but there still is no hard evidence he is alive.
Iraq President Saddam Hussein insists he was killed but has invited a team from the United States to investigate. The Pentagon has not made a decision on whether to accept the invitation.
Nelson, D-Fla., spoke with Speicher's family in Orange Park, Fla., Monday and said he would step up his efforts.
He said he recently met with the president of Syria, who agreed to help. Nelson said his next step is to contact officials in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Polish contacts in Iraq.
Nelson, a member of the Armed Service and Foreign Relations committees, said he wanted "to let them know that this is a priority.
"We're going to start putting out the word with our intelligence network and our embassies with me pushing the issue to see if we can get any evidence on the fate of Cmdr. Speicher," Nelson said. "I'm going to use every avenue that we can to see if now just might be the right time to get some information."
Kuwait is asking Arab nations for their help in returning 600 prisoners of war from Baghdad, and Syria has reportedly asked Iraq to release them on humanitarian grounds.
Attorney Cindy Laquidara, who represents Speicher's family, said the Kuwait effort might help her clients' cause. She said whether Speicher is alive or dead, there is no question that Iraq knows what happened to him.
Nelson said he is skeptical of Hussein's invitation to U.S. investigators.
"I would not put it past Saddam Hussein to do anything to take the heat off him," Nelson said. "We have had so many disappointments in the past that I don't want to get our hopes up, but it's something we need to explore."