by Naharnet Newsdesk
U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein met Wednesday with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Najib Miqati in a bid to rekindle moribund talks over a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel that is holding up oil and gas explorations.
The Presidency said Aoun and Hochstein discussed “the course of the negotiations process regarding the sea border demarcation and the prospects in this file.”
The National News Agency meanwhile said Berri and Hochstein reemphasized “the framework agreement that was announced in October last year.”
Berri for his part noted that “there is a new chance to resume the negotiations in Naqoura with the new U.S. efforts that are being exerted in this regard.”
He also stressed to Hochstein “the importance of exempting Lebanon from the restrictions of the Caesar Act in the issues of drawing Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan.”
NNA said the U.S. envoy expressed optimism to Berri about the two topics.
Hochstein has been recently appointed as the U.S. envoy to the Washington-mediated talks. He has been a longtime close adviser to President Joe Biden.
Hochstein would “discuss sustainable solutions to Lebanon’s energy crisis,” a U.S. State Department statement said.
Lebanon is currently grappling with its worst ever financial crisis, and fuel shortages have ground the country to a halt in recent months.
With a bankrupt state unable to deliver more than an hour or two of mains electricity a day, individuals, businesses and institutions have relied almost entirely on diesel-powered generators.
Rivals Washington and Tehran have in recent weeks appeared to jostle to bring the prime solution to Lebanon’s energy crisis.
Iran, impeded by U.S. and other sanctions, sent an oil tanker to Syria and then had its cargo trucked in through an illegal border point to its Lebanese ally Hizbullah.
The move was seen as a short-term fix with a limited impact on the energy crisis but also as a successful media stunt that goaded Washington into speeding up efforts to come up with alternative solutions.
The U.S. has since been publicly pushing for a regional initiative involving Egypt, Jordan and the World Bank.
“Mr. Hochstein will also underscore the Biden administration’s willingness to help Lebanon and Israel find a mutually agreeable solution to their shared maritime boundary for the benefit of both peoples,” the U.S. statement said.
Israel and Lebanon had resumed negotiations over their disputed maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Lebanon’s claim that the map used by the U.N. in the talks needed modifying.
Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon’s coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of its economic quagmire.