Lebanon and Israel announced Thursday that they had reached an understanding on starting negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations regarding their disputed maritime borders, in what Washington described as a historic between the two countries, which are considered at war.
The US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Schenker indicated that these talks would begin in the week of October 12th.
The speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, said in a press conference, “On the issue of maritime borders, meetings will be held in an ongoing manner at the United Nations headquarters in Naqoura under the banner of” the international organization.
He explained that “the meetings will be held under the auspices of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Affairs”.
He added, “The United States was asked by the two parties, Israel and Lebanon, to act as a mediator and facilitator to demarcate the maritime borders, and it is ready for that”.
And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that this agreement “is the result of relentless diplomatic efforts that lasted for nearly three years”.
The speaker of the Lebanese parliament did not indicate the date of the start of the talks.
For its part, Israel said that the talks would be “direct” and would start after the end of the “Sukkot Festival” on October 10, according to a statement issued by the office of Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
But the advisor to the Lebanese Parliament Speaker, Ali Hamdan, made it clear that the two teams would sit “in the same room, but there will be no direct communication between them, but rather through the international team, so I say it is not direct.
In 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore exploration for gas and oil in blocks 4 and 9 with a consortium that includes “Total”, “Eni” and “Novatek”.
Part of Square 9 is the subject of a dispute between Lebanon and Israel.
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, in a statement thanked his US counterpart, “Mike Pompeo and his team for their dedicated efforts that led to the start of direct talks between Israel and Lebanon”.
On Thursday, Schenker said the land border would be the subject of separate discussions.
“We welcome the new steps taken by the two sides to resume discussions at the expert level on sticking points” related to the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel “with the aim of reaching an agreement on this issue,” he declared.
The American official stressed that this matter is related to “a separate split and… discussions that must be held between the Israelis, the Lebanese and UNIFIL,” referring to the UN forces.
For his part, the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jan Kubis, confirmed that “discussions will take place on the demarcation of the maritime borders,” noting that “a separate series of talks on the Blue Line will take place as well”.
Later, in a statement, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the agreement to launch negotiations on “demarcating the land and sea borders between Lebanon and Israel, to be hosted by the United Nations at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in Naqoura”.
In his statement, the Secretary-General of the United Nations referred to the “continuous diplomatic efforts made by the United States to facilitate” reaching this agreement, stressing the determination of the United Nations Mission “to support the process as requested by the parties and within the framework of its capacity and mandate”.
In May 2019, the Israeli government announced that it had agreed to start talks with Lebanon under the auspices of the United States to resolve the border dispute.
US officials shuttled between the two countries about a decade ago in an attempt to open the way for a border demarcation procedure.
On September 8, Schenker indicated “progress” in terms of starting the talks, expressing his hope to “return to Lebanon and sign this agreement in the coming weeks”.
In addition to the dispute over an area extending to about 860 square kilometers, the talks will also address “land borders based on the Blue Line”.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) welcomed the understanding, stressing its readiness to “provide all possible support to the parties and facilitate efforts to solve this issue”.
A solution to the conflict is vital for Lebanon, which has been suffering from its worst economic crisis in decades.
“The demarcation of the maritime borders is necessary because it will facilitate work in Square No. 9 and it will arouse the interest of international companies with regard to Block 8, more than half of which is located in the disputed area,” said Lebanese expert Laurie Haitayan.
Lebanon, which has failed since March in paying due dues, is interested in exploration work, especially as the first works in Block 4 showed traces of gas, but in an insufficient amount for commercial exploitation.
The Lebanese authorities are pinning great hopes on potential discoveries that will contribute to the economic recovery again.