US defense secretary arrives in Cairo for Sissi meeting

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi welcomes US Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo (AFP)
Updated 20 April 2017
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US defense secretary arrives in Cairo for Sissi meeting

CAIRO: US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis arrived in Cairo Thursday on the latest leg of a regional tour, as ties with Egypt continue to warm under President Donald Trump.
After touching down at Cairo airport, Mattis set off to meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was hailed by Trump during a White House visit earlier this month.
Sissi’s visit marked a shift in relations after Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had given the Egyptian leader the cold shoulder for staging the military overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.
Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt following a bloody crackdown on Mursi’s supporters.
Trump, however, has set aside criticism of Sissi’s human rights record while pledging to maintain support for the key US ally which receives an annual $1.3 billion in military aid.
After meeting Sissi, Mattis is scheduled to hold talks with Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi. He leaves Thursday afternoon to Israel.
No announcement is expected during the Egyptian leg of the tour, which started with a visit to Saudi Arabia.
In Egypt, talks are likely to touch on the military’s counterinsurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where an Daesh group affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.
The Pentagon is also concerned with preventing jihadists from crossing Libya’s porous border with Egypt and the reported presence of Russian troops in Egypt’s western desert, which Cairo has denied.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 12 min 52 sec ago
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.