Lebanon News

Satterfield to convey proposals on border dispute to Israel

Aoun receives Satterfield in Baabda, May 15, 2019. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: After listening to the new “unified” stance of Lebanese officials over the country’s border dispute with Israel, a senior American diplomat will head to Tel Aviv to pitch Beirut’s stance, political sources said Wednesday.

David Satterfield, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met separately Wednesday with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to talk about the demarcation of the land and maritime border between the two countries.

During his meeting with Aoun, the president spoke in detail about dispute-resolution mechanisms he pitched last week to U.S. ambassador Elizabeth Richard.

“Tomorrow [Thursday], he will go to Israel and see what their position is on the Lebanese proposals,” a political source told The Daily Star.

Satterfield expressed Washington’s readiness - if Israel and Lebanon agree on a new mechanism to resolve the maritime dispute - to be a party in the talks as a “facilitator.”

As for where and how the negotiations would be held, the source said Lebanon would wait until after Israel responded to the new proposals before discussing this.

Currently, representatives from the Lebanese Army and from the Israeli army meet face-to-face during a tripartite meeting headed by the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

This meeting happens once a month and takes place in Ras Naqoura in south Lebanon.

Israel has previously refused to accept the U.N. as a mediator in the maritime border dispute because, the source said, it doesn’t have a mandate from the Security Council to do so as it does with the land border dispute.

“This was Israel’s previous response. We will see what they have to say regarding the new proposals,” the source said.

As for the land border, the disputed points between the two sides remain the same, yet there is a mechanism to resolve this via UNIFIL.

“The way the maritime border will be demarcated is still not resolved,” the source said, adding that Satterfield conveyed relief at a unified Lebanese stance.

“He [Satterfield] might come back to Beirut [after the Israel trip],” the source noted.

In a statement from the presidency, Aoun called on the U.S. to contribute to the promotion of stability along the Lebanese border, “especially by respecting Lebanon’s land and sea borders and its right to explore for oil and gas in the Exclusive Economic Zone.”

“Lebanon, which holds onto its sovereignty at land, sea and air, believes that the demarcation of the land and sea borders would further promote stability along the border, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701,” the statement said.

After holding talks with Berri, a statement from the speaker’s office described the atmosphere of the meeting as “positive” and said the border developments would be the subject of further study and review.

Satterfield then met with Hariri for the second time in as many days.

According to a statement from the premier’s office Tuesday after the meeting, the two discussed local and regional developments as well as Lebanese-U.S. ties.

A statement from the premier’s office Wednesday said previous “discussions continued.”

A separate political source told The Daily Star last week, “There has been a revival to the land and maritime border demarcation progress after it had been put on hold.”

Washington previously said it was ready to mediate and find a solution, but that Lebanese leaders needed a uniform stance before the country could proceed.

The maritime border dispute is especially sensitive as Lebanon looks to explore for offshore oil and gas. Both sides claim some 856 square kilometers.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2019, on page 2.

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