Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Monday he expects to return to the Middle East later this week to renew his effort to set up a regional peace conference.

"As long as there is any reasonable prospect of any chance of success, we should continue to work at this," Baker said. The visit will be his fourth since a cease-fire was agreed to in the Persian Gulf war.Baker, who returned from his most recent trip just 10 days ago, said the countries on his itinerary will be essentially the same as last time.

Baker disclosed his travel plans while welcoming former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on a return visit to the State Department.

During his trip, Baker said he planned to visit with Shevardnadze's successor, Alexander Besmertnykh, to try to coordinate plans for a Middle East peace conference, which would be held under joint Soviet-American sponsorship.

Baker said the plan continues to call for direct talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors as well as face to face talks between Israel and Palestinian representatives.

Baker said the decision to go ahead with the trip was made following a telephone discussion with President Bush.

He and the president agreed, Baker said, that "we should continue to try."