Satterfield Resumes Talks on Maritime Demarcation, Meets Aoun, Bassil
President Michel Aoun held talks on Wednesday with Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield who arrived in Beirut on Tuesday, as Washington mediates a maritime border dispute with Israel.
Aoun and Satterfield discussed the bilateral relations between Lebanon and the US, and the latest developments on the local and regional arenas, the National News Agency reported.
"The demarcation of the southern territorial and maritime borders would re-enforce stability along the frontier," Aoun told the U.S. diplomat.
The president called on Washington to "contribute to reaching this goal, especially to respect Lebanon's... right to drill for oil and gas," he said, according to a presidency statement.
They discussed a "working mechanism" to define the borders, the presidency said, without providing details.
A diplomatic source told AFP that Lebanon had received "positive signals of an American desire to play the role of mediator between Beirut and Tel Aviv."
Satterfield had earlier met with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, but did not make a statement to reporters after the meeting.
Ministry sources told LBCI the “meeting (with Bassil) was more than positive and discussions tackled the latest developments in the region and the Gulf area.”
They said that talks have focused on the “demarcation of land and maritime borders.”
On Tuesday the US envoy met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and visited the headquarters of the Maronite Catholic church, where he paid condolences for the passing of its former patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who died on Sunday.
Satterfield’s visit comes a week after President Michel Aoun presented the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon with a "unified stance" regarding the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.
Last month, Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano del Col, that Beirut is ready to establish the maritime border and special economic zone with Israel similar to the one used to demarcate the land border between the two countries after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
There are some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of waters claimed by the two countries, which are technically in a state of conflict. Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in 2006.
In December 2017, the Lebanese Cabinet approved licenses for three international companies to carry out exploratory drilling off the Lebanese coast. The licenses will allow Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek, who bid for two of Lebanon's 10 offshore blocks, to determine whether oil and gas exist.
Last month, Lebanon's Energy Minister Nada Boustani announced a second round of bidding for licenses to search offshore for oil. Boustani said the deadline for companies to submit their offers for three new blocks is Jan. 31, 2020.
Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas later this year in block 4 that is off the coast north of Beirut and in block 9 along the maritime border with Israel in January 2020.
Lebanese governments have long sought energy development but political bickering and the dispute with Israel over the maritime border has caused delay