Lebanon names team for maritime border talks with Israel

Lebanon names team for maritime border talks with Israel
Above, a Lebanese military vessel patrols the waters off the coast of the southern area of Naqura by the border with Israel on Oct. 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 12 October 2020

Lebanon names team for maritime border talks with Israel

Lebanon names team for maritime border talks with Israel
  • Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war
  • Each claims about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones

BEIRUT: Lebanon announced on Monday the names of its delegation that will hold indirect talks later this week with Israel over the disputed maritime border between the two countries.
The announcement by President Michel Aoun’s office comes two weeks after Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement on a framework for the US-mediated talks. The talks are scheduled to begin Wednesday at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones.
Aoun’s office said the four-member Lebanese delegation will be headed by air force Brig. Gen. Bassam Yassin. The three other members are navy Col. Mazen Basbous, Lebanese oil official Wissam Chbat and border expert Najib Massihi.
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation, according to Israeli officials.
Lebanese officials have made sure to send a team of experts to show that this week’s talks with Israel are purely technical and don’t mean any kind of normalization between the two countries.
Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said last week that the talks don’t mean reconciliation with Israel. A statement by Hezbollah’s bloc in parliament said last week that defining the border of “national sovereignty” is the job of the Lebanese state.
The talks will see the Lebanese delegation speaking through UN and US officials to the Israelis.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, is expected in Lebanon ahead of the talks to attend the opening session.
The talks come as Lebanon is passing through the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it come out of the crisis.
Lebanon began offshore drilling earlier this year and is expected to start drilling for gas in the disputed area with Israel in the coming months.
Lebanon and Israel hold monthly tripartite indirect meetings in Naqoura to discuss violations along their border. The countries also held indirect negotiations in the 1990s when Arab states and Israel were working on reaching peace agreements. Although the Palestinians and Jordan signed agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Syria did not.


President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon

Updated 13 min 49 sec ago

President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon

President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon
  • Said Tehran would have to agree to new demands if return to deal was possible
  • Added Tehran must address its “malign” regional activities through proxies

LONDON: US President-elect Joe Biden said he is against Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, adding it is the “last thing” the Middle East region needs, in an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday.

Biden also said that his administration would seek to extend the duration of “restrictions on Iran’s production of fissile material that could be used to make a (nuclear) bomb” in any new negotiations on a nuclear deal.

He added that Tehran would have to agree to new demands if a return to a deal was possible and that it must address its “malign” regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Incumbent President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal struck in 2018 and reimposed strong sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic republic.

Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box last month, said during campaigning that he did not support the lifting of sanctions but intended to offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy.”

However, in the NYT interview published on Wednesday, he admitted that getting Iran to agree to a modified deal would be “hard.”

“Look, there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region,” Biden was quoted as saying.

“The best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” was to deal “with the nuclear program,” he added.

The president-elect warned that if Iran acquired a bomb, it would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and that “the last . . . thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability,” he added.

“In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program,” he told the Times.

Biden was cited as saying that the US always had the option to snap back sanctions if needed, and that Iran knew that.

The JCPOA had given Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

* With AFP