The United States “remains ready to mediate constructive negotiations” between the Israeli and Lebanese governments on their maritime boundary, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.
“Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart,” Pompeo added.
“We encourage both sides to continue discussions based on the respective claims they have previously deposited at the United Nations,” he went on to say.
Pompeo’s remarks came around half an hour after al-Jadeed TV quoted senior political sources as saying that the U.S. mediation team is pressing President Michel Aoun and Army chief General Joseph Aoun to “soften Lebanon’s stance” in the negotiations.
The sources added that the U.S. team wants Lebanon to back down from its latest stance, which is based on “a study prepared by the Army Command, which allows negotiating on a new area that boost Lebanon’s share by hundreds of square kilometers.”
“The U.S. side is threatening that Pompeo might declare the suspension of his country’s mediation in the file,” the sources went on to say.
On December 2, President Michel Aoun said he wants the talks to succeed and that disagreements during the last round of negotiations can be resolved based on international law.
He voiced his remarks during a meeting with John Desrocher, the U.S. mediator for the negotiations, who was in Beirut for discussions with Lebanese leaders.
The negotiations are the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war following decades of conflict. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.
Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. During the second round of the talks the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army officers and experts — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles).
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio that “the Lebanese presented positions that are a provocation,” but he added that all negotiations start with “excessive demands and provocations.”
“I hope that in a few months we’ll be able to reach a breakthrough,” he added.