Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
Senior US diplomat David Satterfield arrived in Israel on Thursday to try to finalize a date for negotiations to begin over setting the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon.
Satterfield arrived from Lebanon and met with National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. This is Satterfield’s second visit here in just over two weeks.
The Israel-Lebanon talks – mediated by the US and expected to take place at the UNIFIL headquarters in Nakura – were the subject of meetings Satterfield held earlier this week in Lebanon. He met in Beirut on Wednesday with Lebanon’s Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
One of the key sticking points holding up the launch of the negotiations is whether they will be open ended – Lebanon’s demand – or whether there will be a six-month deadline, Israel’s position.
Lebanon also balked at bilateral negotiations with Israel, which is why the US will serve as mediator, and why the talks will take place at the UNIFIL offices in Nakura, giving the UN some standing in the discussions as well.
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.
Satterfield, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next US ambassador to Turkey, is finishing up his tenure as acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.
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