NAQOURA, Lebanon: Lebanon protested preconditions by US mediator at Indirect negotiations with Israel Tuesday over the disputed maritime border that are set to resume Wednesday.
Tuesday's talks ended after five hours with no official statement. Hours later, President Michel Aoun said Lebanon’s delegation should negotiate with no preconditions.
Lebanon's delegation, made up of a mix of army officers and experts, had expanded the country's claim in talks late last year, drawing up maps that push for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) for Lebanon. The talks then broke down, only to resume Tuesday.
Aoun's statement said U.S. mediator Ambassador John Desrocher had asked the Lebanese delegation to stick to the previously accepted demarcation. Desrocher arrived in Lebanon on Monday.
"President Aoun gave his instructions to the delegation not to go on negotiating with pre-conditions, but to adopt international law which would be the basis for guaranteeing continued negotiations to reach a fair and just resolution," Aoun said after meeting with the Lebanese delegation, according to a statement from his office.
A source told The Daily Star Tuesday's talks were "positive and encouraging" and hinted a successful outcome was possible in a few weeks. But another source said US mediators tried to block Lebanon's attempts to present its latest stance that allows it to claim more territorial water than initially declared.
The source said the issue would be taken up when talks resume Wednesday.
The Lebanese delegation speaks through UN and US officials to the Israelis.
Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel began in October to try to resolve the dispute which has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area, but the talks stalled and the negotiations were paused in early December.
The countries held four rounds of talks hosted by the United Nations at a peacekeepers base in Ras Naquora, the culmination of nearly a decade of diplomacy by the United States.
The resumption comes after a new US administration took over. Lebanon has sunk deeper into its economic and financial crisis that started in late 2019 - a culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class.
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 being within their own exclusive economic zones.
In the second round of talks, the Lebanese delegation offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers for Lebanon.
Lebanon’s leadership is not united behind the Army Command’s decision regarding the extended area.
Israel has already developed a natural gas industry elsewhere in its economic waters, producing enough gas for domestic consumption and to export to Egypt and Jordan.
Lebanon, which began offshore drilling earlier this year and hopes to start drilling for gas in the disputed area in the coming months, has divided its expanse of waters into 10 blocks, of which three are in the area under dispute with Israel.
Ras Naqoura already hosts monthly tripartite, indirect Israel-Lebanon meetings over violations along the land border.
Israel and Lebanon also held indirect negotiations in the 1990s, when Arab states and Israel worked on peace agreements. The Palestinians and Jordan signed agreements with Israel at the time but Lebanon and Syria did not.