BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Tuesday urged the US to help find a solution to a maritime border dispute with Israel, as Beirut aims to begin offshore oil and gas exploration.
Aoun made the request during talks with David Schenker, the US assistant secretary of state for the region, who is on a two-day visit to Lebanon as part of a regional tour.
Schenker recently replaced David Satterfield, who had shuffled between Lebanon and Israel in attempts to reach a settlement. “Lebanon hopes the US will continue its mediation efforts ... where things stopped with envoy David Satterfield,” Aoun said.
Aoun said Israel “continues its aggression against Lebanese sovereignty by land, air and sea, knowing that any escalation will bring down the stability that has been experienced in the border region since the July 2006 war.”
Schenker said the US was ready to “renew efforts toward the demarcation of land and sea borders in south Lebanon,” and was keen to strengthen bilateral relations, especially in terms of supporting the Lebanese military and security forces.
Schenker arrived in Beirut on Monday evening for his first visit to Lebanon as part of a tour of the region.
The US Embassy in Lebanon said his tour also includes Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and aims to “underscore the importance of bilateral relations and the deep commitment of the US to continue to work with its partners and allies to achieve stability in the Middle East and North Africa.”
In his meeting with Aoun, Schenker was joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs Joel Rayburn.
Aoun told Schenker Lebanon was proceeding with the return of Syrian refugees to their country, and that 352,000 had done so voluntarily, without problems in Syria.
Aoun urged the US to help in this regard, saying his country “can no longer bear more after the increasing number of refugees has resulted in negative repercussions on all Lebanese sectors.”
He reiterated his call for UN organizations and other humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to refugees in Syria as this will encourage them to return.
Aoun expressed concern that the issue of Syrian refugees might be exploited politically rather than dealt with from a humanitarian point of view. He thanked the US for its assistance to Lebanon in general, and the army in particular.
Schenker visited Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said: “Lebanon ratified financial laws that make it conform to the highest international standards in the fight against financial trafficking and money laundering.”
Berri added: “Lebanon is keen to maintain stability, avoid getting dragged into war and abide by international resolutions. The Israeli enemy is responsible for … undermining the stability that has existed since 2006.”
His press office said he and Schenker discussed maritime borders. The latter’s first meeting in Beirut was with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Schenker also met with army officials.