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US Envoy Returns to Lebanon to Mediate Border, Energy Dispute with Israel

US Envoy Returns to Lebanon to Mediate Border, Energy Dispute with Israel

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 13:30
Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil meets US envoy David Satterfield. (Dalati & Nohra)

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Beirut from Israel on Wednesday to continue diplomatic efforts to resolve a dispute between Lebanon and Israel over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters.

He kicked off his talks by holding talks with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. He departed the talks without issuing a statement, said Lebanon’s state National News Agency.

Disputes over Israeli construction of the border wall, Lebanon’s start of oil and gas exploration at sea and the growing arsenal of Lebanon’s Iran-backed group “Hezbollah” have caused a spike in tensions between Lebanon and Israel.

Lebanon this month signed its first offshore energy exploration and production agreements with a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek. One of two blocks given to the consortium, Block 9, contains waters claimed by Israel.

Satterfield has been shuttling back and forth between Israel and Lebanon in a bid to resolve the disputes.

Bassil and Satterfield had last met on Friday, after which parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Beirut’s rejection of US proposals to resolve the maritime dispute as “unacceptable”.

This was an apparent reference to a maritime demarcation line proposed by US diplomat Frederic Hof in 2012, which would give Lebanon around two-thirds and Israel around one-third of a disputed triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles).

A senior Lebanese government source said Satterfield did not come with any new plan, and talks still revolve around the Hof line.

A source in the foreign ministry said he discussed on Wednesday the disputed area, how Lebanon can preserve its rights and how to keep exploration and drilling from being affected.

The US Embassy in Lebanon said Satterfield “continues to engage” on regional issues and on helping Lebanon develop its resources in agreement with its neighbors.

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim had on Tuesday met with United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon Commander Michael Beary to discuss the latest developments in Israel’s construction of the border wall.

Informed sources said earlier that Satterfield’s mediation will ultimately fail because its requires that both parties concerned accept it and Lebanon does not.

They explained that Lebanon refuses to engage in political negotiations with Israel because it fears that it could be lured into peace negotiations at a later date, which would result in internal divisions.

They stressed instead that United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 could help in resolving the Block 9 and border wall disputes.

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