BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Lebanon and Israel are close to establishing a framework for negotiations on demarcating the countries’ land and maritime borders, which would have an impact on offshore oil and gas exploration.
In a statement, the ministry said the form of negotiations to be held under United Nations auspices and the role of each of the concerned parties was still being worked out. The purported negotiations are to be overseen by Washington, which has been mediating between the countries.
The statement came after a meeting Tuesday between Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield. He has been shuttling between Israel and Lebanon to mediate in the border dispute.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said Satterfield conveyed Israel’s response to the Lebanese proposals and that the atmosphere was “positive.”
On Monday, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Jerusalem had agreed to enter the talks after meeting Satterfield.
Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including in a block disputed by Israel, with which it has fought several wars.
A consortium composed of energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon’s 10 exploration blocks last year.
It is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.
Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area.
In April, Lebanon invited international consortia to bid for five more blocks, which include two also adjacent to Israel’s waters.
Israel also produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.
Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of military presence.