Berri Announces Upcoming Talks with Israel on Disputed Borders
Lebanon and Israel will hold U.N.-mediated talks on their disputed land and maritime borders, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Thursday.
The United States will act as a facilitator during the talks, which are due to be held at the U.N. headquarters in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura, Berri told a news conference without providing a date for the negotiations.
U.S. envoy David Schenker said the negotiations would start in the week of October 12.
Berri noted that the negotiations will be carried out by the Lebanese Army under the supervision of the President and the government, adding that his role in the file had ended with the announcement with the framework agreement.
“I have been calling on the U.N. to demarcate the sea border for the past 10 years,” Berri noted, pointing out that he had “personally” asked U.S. officials to help in the file.
He also said that the discussions resumed after the latest visit to Lebanon by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Continuous meetings will be held at the U.N. headquarters in Naqoura under the auspices of the U.N. coordinator,” Berri said.
“The U.S. has been asked by the two parties to act as a mediator and facilitator for the demarcation of the sea border,” he added.
Noting that the sea demarcation agreement will eventually be submitted to the U.N. to become an official document, Berri answered a reporter’s question by saying that the framework agreement was reached prior to the latest U.S. sanctions against his aide Ali Hassan Khalil.
“As Nabih Berri I do not bow to pressures,” he emphasized.
He added that the U.S. “intends to exert its utmost efforts to establish a positive and constructive atmosphere between the two parties” in order to “conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.”
“The demarcation will help Lebanon economically” and French oil giant Total “has promised to begin exploration operations before the end of the year,” Berri said.
In Israel, Energy Minister Youval Steinitz said in a statement the "direct negotiations" would be held after the Jewish feast of Sukkot that ends October 10.
According to Israel, bilateral negotiations with Lebanon have been suspended since 1994.
But an adviser to Berri, Ali Hamdan, said the talks would be "indirect."
"They will sit in the same room, but there will be no direct conversation between both sides. It will rather be via the UN team," he told AFP.
- Blue Line up for discussion -
Talks would also address disputed areas along the Blue Line, a U.N.-drawn land border between the two countries established in 2000 after Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon.
They aim at an agreement "on the land border in relation to the Blue Line, after the signature of Lebanon, Israel and UNIFIL," the U.N. peacekeeping force patrolling the shared frontier, Berri said.
But Schenker said this talks track would however be held separately from the maritime border discussions.
"We welcome... new steps by the parties to resume expert-level discussion on remaining unresolved Blue Line points with the objective also of reaching agreement on that," he said.
But "that's a separate track and that obviously is a discussion traditionally between the Israelis, the Lebanese, and UNIFIL," he said, referring to the U.N. mission in Lebanon.
The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, hailed what he described as "important positive news, confirming the decision of Lebanon and Israel to begin discussions on the delineation of the maritime boundary... with the U.S. participating as mediator and facilitator."
"A different set of discussions on (the) Blue line will take place as well," he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed what he a called a historic agreement between Lebanon and Israel to discuss their disputed borders, a "result of nearly three years of intense diplomatic engagement."
The talks between Lebanon and Israel, which are still technically at war, follow two years of indirect contacts via the U.S. administration, the Israeli energy minister's office said.
Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah fought a devastating war in 2006.
At the time, then Lebanese prime minister Fouad Saniora said that Lebanon would be the "last Arab country to make peace with Israel."
U.S. envoy David Schenker on September 8 said he hoped to come to Lebanon and sign a framework agreement towards starting discussions "in the coming weeks."
The issue of the maritime border is particularly sensitive due to the possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.
In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean for oil and gas with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.
Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.
Exploration of the other one, Block 9, has not started and is more controversial as ownership is disputed.
Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan said both sides agreeing on the maritime frontier was in Lebanon's interest so it could press forward with oil and gas exploration off its coast.
The maritime "border demarcation is necessary because first it will facilitate work on Block 9, and could also spark interest from international firms for Block 8, more than half of which lies in the disputed area," she said.
01 October 2020, 15:20
Berri: The U.S. acknowledges that the governments of Lebanon and Israel are ready to demarcate their maritime and land borders.
01 October 2020, 15:18
Berri: Total has promised to begin exploration operations before the end of the year.
01 October 2020, 15:17
Berri: The demarcation will help Lebanon economically.
01 October 2020, 15:16
Berri: The U.S. intends to exert its utmost efforts to establish a positive and constructive atmosphere between the two parties in order to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.
01 October 2020, 15:15
Berri: Lebanon, through its army, resistance and people cannot be threatened. We want our right and we won't renounce it.
01 October 2020, 15:14
Berri: The agreement was reached in July prior to the sanctions and as Nabih Berri I do not bow to pressures.
01 October 2020, 15:03
Berri: The sea demarcation agreement will eventually be submitted to the U.N.
01 October 2020, 15:03
Berri: The U.S. has been asked by the two parties to act as a mediator and facilitator for the demarcation of the border.
01 October 2020, 15:02
Berri: Continuous meetings will be held at the U.N. headquarters in Naqoura under the auspices of the U.N. coordinator.
01 October 2020, 15:01
Berri: The positive experience of the tripartite mechanism will be relied on.
01 October 2020, 15:00
Berri: I will recite a framework agreement and the negotiations will be carried out by the Lebanese Army.
01 October 2020, 14:59
Berri: The discussions resumed after Secretary Pompeo's visit to Lebanon.
01 October 2020, 14:58
Berri: I personally asked the Americans to help in this file.
01 October 2020, 14:58
Berri: I have been calling on the U.N. to demarcate the sea border for the past 10 years