Saudis to Say Only Thursday Whether Coming to Summit

Saudi Arabia will announce during an Arab League meeting Thursday whether it is participating in the Annapolis summit scheduled for November 27 in Maryland.

Senior Palestinian sources made this announcement yesterday following a meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is expecting further developments on the negotiations over the summit's final statement, the sources said. It is hoping the final statement will include Israeli agreement to the principles put forth in the Saudi-sponsored Arab League proposal, and a promise to implement the first stage of the road map.

The Palestinian officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called senior Saudi officials and said there has been significant progress in talks with Israel about the document.

However, Saudi Arabia will decide whether to participate in the summit - as part of an Arab League delegation or independently - only during the meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Thursday.

Arab sources say that the Saudis are inclined against participation, given Israel's intransigence. Unless Riyadh changes its stance, countries including Syria are also unlikely to participate.

However, the PA intends to attend the summit regardless of the Arab League's position, so that the international media does not portray it as an obstacle to peace.

Meanwhile, in Israel, preparations for the summit are peaking, and the cabinet is scheduled to hold a detailed discussion on the peace process. The cabinet also is expected to approve a series of goodwill gestures for the Palestinians, primarily the release of 450 prisoners, bolstering Israel's commitment to freeze settlement activity and evacuate illegal outposts.