Lebanon and Israel announced Thursday, October 1, negotiations under the mediation of the UN on their disputed maritime borders.

"Historic" talks, according to Washington.

"Continuous meetings will be held at the United Nations headquarters in Naqoura, under the United Nations banner," Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri told a press conference.

"The meetings will be held under the auspices of the office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL)," he added.

He added: "The two parties, Israel and Lebanon, have asked the United States to play the role of mediator and facilitator for the delimitation of maritime borders, and they are ready for it".

The talks deal "is the result of nearly three years of intense diplomatic effort" by Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

No date has been announced by the head of the Lebanese Parliament for the start of negotiations, nor on the terms of the talks.

For its part, Israel said the negotiations would be "direct" and would take place after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot which ends on October 10, according to a statement from the office of Israeli Energy Minister Youval Steinitz.

In 2018, Lebanon signed its first oil exploration contract for two offshore blocks (4 and 9) with a consortium led by the French group Total and including the Italian Eni and the Russian Novotek.

Part of Block 9 is in a disputed maritime area with Israel.                

Ten years of negotiations

For his part, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazy, in a statement thanked his American counterpart "Mike Pompeo and his team for their dedicated efforts which have led to direct negotiations between Israel and Lebanon".

The Israeli government said in May 2019 that it had agreed to start talks with Lebanon through the United States to resolve the conflict over its maritime borders.

In this case, Washington has been shuttling between the two countries for nearly a decade to pave the way for talks about the borders.

On September 8, US Assistant Secretary for Middle East Affairs David Schenker reported "progress" towards the start of talks, saying he hoped "to sign an agreement in the coming weeks".

The framework agreement foresees, in addition to the maritime dispute which concerns an area of ​​860 km2, negotiations on "the land borders linked to the blue line" and the signing of an agreement "by Lebanon, Israel and UNIFIL", Nabih Berri said.

The UN Interim Force for Lebanon (UNIFIL) welcomed the agreement, affirming its readiness to "provide all support (...) and facilitate efforts aimed at resolving this dispute".          

A potential windfall for Lebanon

The resolution of the border dispute is vital for Lebanon, lagging behind in the exploration of its offshore resources and mired for a year in its worst economic crisis in decades. 

"The delimitation of the (maritime) borders is necessary because it will first facilitate work in block 9 and may arouse the interest of international companies in block 8, more than half of which is in the disputed area," explains Laury Haytayan, expert on oil management in the Middle East.  

Lebanon, in default of payment since March, is all the more interested in new explorations as the work carried out in the first block (no. 4) has not proved conclusive, traces of gas having been found but not in sufficient quantity for marketing.

Lebanese authorities have high hopes for a potential significant discovery, seeing it as a way to revive a stalled economy and meet energy needs in a country suffering for more than three decades from chronic power shortages. .

With AFP

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