From NBC's Libby Leist and Andrea Mitchell
The State Department has advised former President Jimmy Carter to not meet with Hamas representatives on a trip to Syria next week.
Details of Carter's schedule have not been made public, but State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, "We have counseled the former president against such a meeting."
"US government policy is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. We don't believe that it is in the interest of our policy or in the interest of peace to have such a meeting," he added.
Carter's trip comes as an Israeli study claims Hamas is in a major military buildup -- with help from Syria and Iran. Carter already has been criticized by some Jewish groups for his past criticism of Israeli policy.
Carter's decision to meet with Hamas could have blowback for Obama. In Nigeria last week, Carter signaled his support for Obama, without officially endorsing him. Asked about that, sources close to both Obama and Carter told NBC NEWS that they are ducking a formal endorsement to avoid alienating Jewish voters critical of the former president's Middle East policies. Carter is a superdelegate and has long had rocky relations with the Clintons.
*** UPDATE *** The Obama campaign provided NBC with a statement it released yesterday. "Senator Obama does not agree with President Carter's decision to go forward with this meeting because he does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements. As President, Obama will negotiate directly with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas."
In anticipation of his trip to Syria, Carter had requested a briefing from the State Department, McCormack said. Secretary Rice tasked David Welch, her top aide on Middle East issues, to convey to Carter that the Bush Administration did not support a meeting with Hamas.
Welch spoke to Carter for about a half-hour while traveling with Rice in the Middle East two weeks ago.
McCormack said if Carter does decide to meet with leaders of Hamas, the US will not participate in the planning or help schedule any meetings. Carter will not be carrying any messages from the US, says McCormack.