NEW YORK – Former President Jimmy Carter's upcoming meeting with senior officials of the Palestinian terror group Hamas is not "in the interest of peace," according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
FOX News confirmed on Thursday that Carter will travel to Syria next week for an unprecedented meeting with the senior leadership of Hamas. The State Department has designated Hamas a "foreign terrorist organization," a stance McCormack reiterated.
The State Department had "counseled the former president about having such a meeting," he said. "U.S. policy is that Hamas is a terrorist organization; we don't believe its in the interest of our policy or in the interest of peace to have such a meeting."
Carter originally was slated to travel throughout the Mideast with a group of statesmen and philanthropists including Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, but Carter now will be traveling without the group.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Annan on Tuesday, according to the State Department, which would not confirm whether the Syria trip was discussed in the conversation; however, Annan pulled out of the trip after the call. A spokesman for Annan in Geneva could not be reached for comment.
FOXNews.com first reported Tuesday on an item in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that said Carter was preparing an unprecedented meeting with Khaled Meshal, the exiled head of Hamas who lives in Damascus.
McCormack once said of the prospect of meeting with Meshal, "That’s not something that we could possibly conceive of."
Earlier Thursday a senior Hamas official confirmed reports of the meeting, according to the Associated Press.
The official, Mohammed Nazzal, told the AP that Carter sent an envoy to Damascus requesting a meeting with Hamas leadership, including Meshal, and that Hamas "welcomed the request." The meeting will take place on April 18, he said.
Meshal, who lives in Syria to avoid being arrested by the Israeli government, leads Hamas from his seat in Damascus, where he is a guest of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Carter would be the first Western leader of his stature to meet with Meshal. Though Meshal met with Clinton officials in the 1990s, the Bush administration has sought to isolate Hamas, enforcing rigid sanctions on its government in Gaza and refusing to meet with its leaders unless it recognizes Israel and abandons terror.
The two founders of Hamas, the cleric Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, were killed by Israeli air strikes in 2004.
FOX News' Nina Donaghy contributed to this report.