June 5, 2009 / 5:47 PM / 10 years ago

Mitchell to visit Middle East, may go to Syria

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - U.S. envoy George Mitchell may visit Syria next week as part of Middle East trip, a stop that would suggest a further improvement in long-strained U.S.-Syrian ties, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

Relations between the two countries have been rocky for years in part because of U.S. accusations that Syria permits insurgents to cross its territory into Iraq, supports violent Palestinian groups and interferes in neighboring Lebanon.

Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy, on Sunday heads to Oslo, where he was expected to attend a meeting of Palestinian aid donors, and then to see Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials in the region, the State Department said.

Asked if Mitchell would visit Damascus, spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters "that is a possibility but the arrangements for that are still being worked."

On Wednesday, U.S. and Syrian officials said Washington was sending a military delegation to Syria soon to discuss Iraq. At that time, a U.S. official said Mitchell might also go to see if the time was right to revive Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

On Friday a U.S. official, who spoke on condition he not be named, said Mitchell planned to go to Syria after the military delegation. He said he would definitely go at some point and whether he did so next week was a matter of scheduling.

The State Department lists Syria as a state that sponsors terrorism. Washington wants Syria to help stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, work for peace with Israel and stop supporting of U.S.-designated terrorist groups such as Hamas. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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