Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon over the demarcation of their maritime border is expected to begin in July, according to a Channel 13 report on Saturday.
US envoy David Satterfield, who has been shuttling between Israel and Lebanon for the last number of weeks, held talks on the matter on Friday in Israel, and is expected to return to Lebanon for talks on Monday.
One of the key sticking points holding up the launch of the negotiations has been whether they will be open ended – Lebanon’s demand – or whether there will be a six-month deadline, which is Israel’s position.
Channel 13 quoted Israeli officials as saying that Satterfield made “substantial progress” in his talks, and that as a compromise solution to the timetable issues, the talks will not have a firm deadline, but the US – in announcing the talks – will say that the hope is that they are concluded within six months.
Lebanon has previously balked at bilateral negotiations with Israel, which is why the US will serve as a mediator, and why the talks are expected to take place at the UNIFIL offices in Nakura, giving the UN some standing in the discussions as well.
Israeli officials have said that the talks will only deal with the maritime border between the two countries, and not the land border.
Israel and Lebanon have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area in the Mediterranean that extends for some 860 sq. km. This area includes several blocks for exploratory offshore drilling that Lebanon bid for tender two years ago.
Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed waters are in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); parts of Block 9 run through waters that Israel claims as its own EEZ.
Recently discovered oil and gas reserves off the shores of Lebanon and Israel are predicted to generate up to $600 billion over the next few decades. In December 2017, Beirut signed contracts with three international companies to explore oil and gas in two of the blocks.
Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas off the coast north of Beirut by the end of the year, and in the block near the area disputed with Israel next year.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.
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