An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Acting Secretary of State David Satterfield’s efforts to get Israel and Lebanon around a negotiating table to discuss marking their maritime border has failed, according to Lebanese reports on Wednesday.
Satterfield, who was confirmed last Friday as Washington’s ambassador to Turkey and could be making his last visit to the region trying to deal with the maritime border issue, met in Beirut on Tuesday with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and House Speaker Nabih Berri.
According to these reports, Satterfield told his Lebanese interlocutors that Israel has refused their request for UN sponsorship of the talks, and their demands that the discussions should deal not only with the maritime border but also the land border as well.
Israel and Lebanon have a dispute over an 860 sq. km. area that includes several blocs rich in natural gas.
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, Israel’s position.
The US reportedly has put forward a compromise solution whereby the talks will not have a firm deadline, but that the US – in announcing the talks – will say that the hope is that they are concluded within six months.
Al Joumhouria reported that Satterfield had suggested a verbal consensus on some of the negotiating mechanisms, but that Berri – a Hezbollah ally – rejected this and said to him that he does not even trust a written agreement with Israel, let alone an oral one.
A statement from Berri’s office on Tuesday said Lebanon wants the UN to sponsor the meetings “to deny the Israeli enemy the opportunity of snatching Lebanese rights.”
Another point of contention has to do with the UN’s role, with Lebanon wanting to see an active role for the world body, and Israel wanting to see the talks mediated by the US. The US proposed that the talks be held at a UN facility in Nakura but not under their sponsorship, something rejected by the Lebanese.
Last month Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said he expected US-mediated talks to start within a month. On Wednesday, his office did not respond to requests for a reaction to the developments.Reuters contributed to this report.
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