BEIRUT: The US mediator in charge of negotiations on the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel expressed Friday his optimism that the talks, interrupted in April, will resume soon and said he hoped to reach an agreement.
Amos Hochstein met Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati during a three-hour stay in the country.
Previously, the American mediator had crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border by land, entering Lebanon from Naqoura.
Israel and Lebanon are vying for around 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean believed to contain lucrative offshore gas reserves. Both countries have claimed the area and plan to begin exploration.
After talks with Aoun, Hochstein said he was optimistic that a deal could be reached.
“It was a great meeting and I believe we have made good progress in this area,” he said.
Hochstein added that he was grateful to Aoun for “the discussions we had during the meeting.”
Aoun’s media office said Hochstein presented the results of his talks with the Israeli side and made several remarks regarding the negotiations.
The US negotiator’s visit coincided with an announcement by the Israeli military that an RTV drone crashed Thursday night into the sea near the northern maritime border with Lebanon.
Israeli military spokesman Avichay Adraee said a technical malfunction caused the crash and the drone was recovered by a maritime force.
The type of drone will be decommissioned until investigations into the incident are complete, the spokesperson said.
Speaking at the airport, Hochstein summed up the meetings, saying he was optimistic about “what we heard and discussed”.
He said there had been progress in the negotiations to reach a settlement that benefits the Lebanese economy, and added, “We will do our best to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone.”
Hochstein declined to answer questions.
However, an expected date to resume the talks was not discussed at the meetings, sources said.
Hochstein reportedly asked the Lebanese to clarify several points, with the focus remaining on line 23 and the Qana field.
According to Berri’s media office, the parliament speaker told Hochstein that Lebanon is determined to invest in the entire economic zone under its sovereignty.
Berri called for a return to UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura for indirect negotiations under UN auspices and through US mediation.
Hochstein arrived in Israel Thursday to meet with National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and the Israeli negotiating team.
Earlier, oil and gas company Energean Power announced that it would postpone gas extraction for Israel from the disputed Karish field.
Israeli media reported that Hochstein met with Energean Power executives and senior Israeli officials in Athens ahead of the company’s announcement.
According to the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli officials said Hochstein also visited France and met with French President Emmanuel Macron and French energy company TotalEnergies, which plans to extract gas from the disputed field for Lebanon.
Legal expert Christina Abi Haidar told Arab News that the visit did not bring much new and should be seen “in the context of expectation”.