Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks

Special Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks
Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col and Lebanese outgoing Defense Minister Zeina Akarin Beirut at an event to announce border talks with Israel. (AP Photo / Bilal Hussein)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks

Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks
  • UNIFIL shows readiness to support negotiating parties
  • Israel had agreed in June 2019 to start talks on these maritime borders with US mediation

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced a “framework agreement,” not a “final agreement,” with the US to re-negotiate demarcating the southern borders of Lebanon and the correlation of the land and sea tracks.

Berri said on Thursday that he had worked on this agreement for a decade, highlighting that it was reached on July 9, and the US sanctions against his political assistant, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and others came later and have nothing to do with the demarcation of borders.

The US Department of State quickly welcomed “the decision to start Lebanese-Israeli talks over borders,” emphasizing that this “paves the way for stability, security, and prosperity and serves the interests of Lebanon, Israel, and the region.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Lebanon in March 2019, revealed that “the agreement on negotiations between Lebanon and Israel is the result of three years of endeavors.”

The leadership of the UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) welcomed the agreement to negotiate and stressed its readiness to “provide all possible support to the parties and facilitate efforts to resolve this issue.”

UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col listens as Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, announces border talks with Israel. (AP)

Israel had agreed in June 2019 to start talks on these maritime borders with US mediation, and Lebanon had insisted on reaching an agreement on the maritime and land borders together.

Lebanon and Israel are officially considered at war, and there is no demarcation of the land or maritime borders between them.

The UN marked what is known as the Blue Line to replace the land border. It includes several points over which the two sides continue to dispute.

Lebanon is proceeding with these negotiations with US mediation in light of a dispute over the maritime borders that emerged during the identification of three out of a total of 10 points for oil and gas exploration in the exclusive economic zone.

Berri told a press conference on Thursday: “Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon revived the file of border demarcation, and the initiative on which I insisted was the April 1996 Understanding and the Security Council Resolution 1701. I also insisted that the meetings take place at the UN headquarters in Naqoura, under UN auspices, and with the UN’s knowledge.”

Berri added: “After confirming the presence of oil on our borders, I personally started in 2010 demanding from the UN to demarcate the maritime borders and draw a white line in the Mediterranean. Due to the UN’s reluctance and its request for help from the US, I personally took the initiative to request assistance.”

He said Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon and his meeting with him brought the file of border demarcation back to the discussion table.

Berri pointed out that “the US has been requested to act as a mediator for demarcating maritime borders and is ready for that. When the demarcation is finally agreed upon, the maritime border demarcation agreement will be deposited with the UN in accordance with international law and relevant treaties.”

He said: “The US intends to make every effort to successfully manage and conclude the negotiations as soon as possible. And if the demarcation succeeds, there is a very large scope – especially with regard to Blocks 8 and 9 – for it to be one of the reasons for our debt repayment.”

Berri highlighted that “the land borders of southern Lebanon will be demarcated based on the positive experience present since the April 1996 Understanding and under Resolution 1701. With regard to maritime borders, continuous meetings will be held under the auspices of the UN Special Coordinator.”

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said: “Israel and Lebanon will hold talks mediated by the US on the maritime borders between the two countries.”

“The talks are expected to take place after the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) holiday, which ends on Oct. 9,” he said.