Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon on Tuesday, as talks on the demarcation of maritime and land borders between the two enemy countries progresses.
Satterfield returned to Beirut from Jerusalem with a “positive impression” from Israel, said a report by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat. According to the report, Israel agreed on the demarcation but had asked for clarification on some issues.
“Satterfield is trying to get answers from Lebanon,” sources were quoted by Asharq al-Awsat as saying, adding that it was the first time that Satterfield “had conveyed a positive atmosphere by the Israeli side, unlike previous times.”
Beirut has repeated its refusal to hold direct negotiations with Israel, so Satterfield said that Washington was ready to act as a “facilitator” in talks between the two countries if they agree on a new mechanism to resolve the maritime dispute.
According to a report in Arab News, Lebanon has renewed its commitment to a mechanism that includes forming a tripartite committee with representatives from Lebanon, Israel and the UN, with the US acting as the mediator.
The report in Asharq Al-Awsat said Israel had rejected the participation of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon in the demarcation talks, demanding instead direct negotiations with Lebanon and the United States.
“The Israeli side considers that the UNIFIL forces do not have an international mandate to take care of the negotiations on the demarcation of the maritime border, as long as there is no Security Council resolution in this regard,” the report said.
While in Beirut, Satterfield met with Lebanon’s Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to discuss the issue.
“There is progress in the efforts by Satterfield, but it is not over,” a statement from Berri’s office was quoted as saying.
Satterfield’s visit to the region comes a week after Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun presented Elizabeth Richard, the US ambassador to Lebanon, with a “unified stance” regarding the demarcation of the maritime border.
In late April, Beeri said Beirut was prepared to demarcate its maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the UN, and with the same mechanism used for the Blue Line.
“We are ready to draw Lebanon’s maritime borders and those of the Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] using the same procedure that was used to draw the Blue Line under the supervision of the United Nations,” Berri was quoted by NNA as saying.
The UN-demarcated Blue Line currently separates Lebanon and Israel’s territory with more than 200 points. Thirteen of the points are disputed by the Lebanese government.
According to the report, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col told Berri that the mechanism used to draw the Blue Line could also be used to resolve the maritime border issue and enhance stability.
The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq.km., which extends along several blocks over which Lebanon issued a tender for exploratory offshore drilling two years ago.
Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed maritime waters are in Lebanon’s EEZ, and 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.
Beirut, which is grappling with an economic crisis, is hoping to solve the demarcation dispute with Israel in order to accelerate the process to allow for companies to explore for oil and gas in the disputed area.