A senior Iraqi official indicated Saturday that two Americans jailed for illegally entering the country could be freed soon.
“We think in the coming few days this problem should be solved,” Hassab al-Oubaidi, a representative of the foreign relations department of the Iraqi parliament, told Associated Press Television in Baghdad.
The two prisoners - David Daliberti, 41, of Jacksonville, Fla., and William Barloon, 39, of New Hampton, Iowa - were sentenced last weekend to eight-year terms for an illegal crossing into Iraq on March 13.
U.S. officials maintain they went over the border accidentally and have been working to secure their release through the Polish Embassy, which handles American interests in Baghdad in the absence of direct U.S.Iraqi diplomatic relations.
Al-Oubaidi said he did not think the imprisonment of the two men would lead to a deterioration in U.S.Iraqi relations.
He said the men “violated the border illegally. It is a normal matter.”
State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said Friday that the two men are “holding up fairly well” and are able to exchange messages with family members.
A Polish diplomat, Ryszard Krystosik, took food, medicine and clothing to them on Friday, as well as vitamins, cigarettes, magazines and newspapers.
Krystosik on Saturday declined comment on al-Oubaidi’s remarks.
Senior Iraqi officials have repeatedly said that the Americans’ arrest was linked to Baghdad’s drive to have crippling U.N. trade sanctions lifted. The embargo was imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
Al-Oubaidi told APTV that Baghdad has “always been cooperative” with the U.N. Special Commission charged with destroying Iraq’s weapons programs and installing longterm monitoring.
The chief of the Special Commission, Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus, is scheduled to report to the Security Council this month on his mission and the effectiveness of the elaborate surveillance system his weapons inspectors have installed in Iraq.
That report, if favorable to Baghdad, could intensify pressure by some Security Council members, led by Russia, France and China, to ease the sanctions.
The United States and Britain have blocked all efforts to soften or lift the embargo, claiming Iraq is hiding biological weapons.
They also want Baghdad to free some 600 Kuwaiti prisoners and improve its treatment of Iraq’s 18 million people, especially rebellious Kurds and Shiite Muslims.
Iraq’s rubber-stamp parliament on Saturday formally rejected a U.N. proposal that would have allowed it to sell $4 billion worth of oil to buy desperately needed food and medicine. Thirty percent of the proceeds would have gone to Kuwait as war reparations and 20 percent to the United Nations to pay for its operations in Iraq.
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz last month had called the proposal a deceptive maneuver designed to prolong the embargo.