US officials: Mitchell may visit Syria

US ME envoy said to be preparing trip in coming month in order to push Israeli-Arab peace process.

Mitchell smiles 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mitchell smiles 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
US officials revealed on Friday that President Barack Obama's special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is laying plans to visit Syria as a way to push forward talks between the Arab world and Israel. Former Sen. Mitchell and his team have applied for Syrian visas for an as-yet unannounced trip that could come within a month, the officials said. However, the officials, who insisted on anonymity because no announcement has been approved, cautioned that Mitchell's schedule is still uncertain and that even if the visas are granted Mitchell may not to visit Syria. If Mitchell travels to Syria, he would be the highest-level US visitor there since Obama took office. Lower level officials, including Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, a Middle East expert at the White House, have visited Damascus twice. Despite the overtures, Obama last week renewed Bush-era economic sanctions against Syria. In addition to urging Syria to seek peace with Israel, the United States has been urging Syria to better police its border with Iraq. US commanders in Baghdad say the Syrian border is an entry point for Islamic radicals for their attacks against American and Iraqi forces. Obama has made reviving Arab-Israeli peace talks - and reviving the US image in the Muslim world - a priority. He has meetings in the next two weeks with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders at the White House. And he travels to Egypt next month to deliver a major televised address.