BEIRUT: The US mediator handling negotiations over the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel expressed optimism on Friday that the talks, which stopped in April, will resume shortly and said that he was hopeful of reaching an agreement.
Amos Hochstein met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati during a three-hour stay in the country.
Earlier the US mediator crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border by land, entering Lebanon from Naqoura.
Israel and Lebanon are in dispute over about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean believed to contain lucrative offshore gas reserves. Both countries have made claims to the area and plan to begin exploration.
Following talks with Aoun, Hochstein said that he was optimistic about reaching an agreement.
“It was an excellent meeting and I believe that we have made good progress in this field,” he said.
Hochstein added that he was grateful to Aoun for “the discussions that we had during the meeting.”
Aoun’s media office said that Hochstein presented the results of his talks with the Israeli side and made several points concerning the negotiations.
The US negotiator’s visit coincided with an Israeli army announcement that an RTV drone crashed late on Thursday in the sea near the northern maritime border with Lebanon.
Israeli army spokeperson Avichay Adraee said that a technical malfunction caused the crash and the drone was recovered by a maritime force.
The type of drone will be taken out of service until investigations into the incident are completed, the spokeperson said.
Speaking at the airport, Hochstein summarized the meetings by saying he was optimistic about “what we have heard and discussed.”
He said there had been progress in the negotiations to reach a settlement that benefited the Lebanese economy, and added: “We will do our best to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone.”
Hochstein declined to answer questions.
However, a scheduled date to resume talks was not discussed during the meetings, according to sources.
Hochstein is believed to have 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 parliamentary speaker told Hochstein that Lebanon is determined to invest in the entire economic zone under its sovereignty.
Berri called for a return to the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura for indirect negotiations under the auspices of the UN and through US mediation.
Hochstein arrived in Israel on Thursday to meet with National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and the Israeli negotiating team.
Earlier, the oil and gas company Energean Power announced it would postpone extracting gas for Israel from the disputed Karish field.
Israeli media reported that Hochstein met Energean Power executives and senior Israeli officials in Athens before the company’s announcement.
According to the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli officials said that Hochstein also visited France and met with French President Emmanuel Macron and French energy company TotalEnergies, which is planning to extract gas in the disputed field for Lebanon.
Legal expert Christina Abi Haidar told Arab News that the visit offered little new and should be seen “in the context of biding time.”