Secretary of State James Baker will meet Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh Thursday to discuss his Middle East peace mission, U.S. officials said.

Their meeting in the town of Kislovodsk raised speculation that Baker may be making progess on his peace mission and that he he may be prepared to announce U.S.-Soviet sponsorship of a peace conference.Baker was meeting Syria's President Hafez al-Assad Tuesday for one of the most important rounds of talks in his third visit to the region in six weeks to explore new ideas to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

After meeting Bessmertnykh, Baker will return to Jersualem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Baker had been expected in Israel Tuesday night.