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US energy envoy visits Lebanon, will discuss maritime border talks with Israel

State Department says Amos Hochstein will stress Biden administration’s willingness to help ‘find a mutually agreeable solution’ to dispute over gas exploration

Amos Hochstein, US State Department special envoy for energy (left), shakes hands with then-US vice president Joe Biden after introducing at the Caribbean Energy Security Summit at the State Department in Washington, on January 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Amos Hochstein, US State Department special envoy for energy (left), shakes hands with then-US vice president Joe Biden after introducing at the Caribbean Energy Security Summit at the State Department in Washington, on January 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US envoy Amos Hochstein arrived Tuesday in Beirut 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 Israel-born newly appointed envoy to the US-mediated talks, a longtime close adviser to President Joe Biden, is also due to tackle Lebanon’s dire energy crisis in his meetings.

Hochstein would “discuss sustainable solutions to Lebanon’s energy crisis,” a US State Department statement said.

“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 statement said.

Hochstein’s selection for the post was reported earlier this month by the Axios news site, which quoted unnamed Israeli officials saying he was expected to also visit Israel soon.

A State Department spokesperson noted at the time that Hochstein, who is considered a close confidant of US President Joe Biden, had previously been a mediator in the Israel-Lebanon maritime border dispute during the Obama administration.

The last round of talks between Israel and Lebanon on the matter were held in May.

UN peacekeeping military vehicles patrol near the post where the indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon were being held in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura, Lebanon, on October 14, 2020. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Lebanon has sunk deep into an economic and financial crisis that started in late 2019 — a culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class. The small Mediterranean country is eager to resolve the border dispute with Israel, paving the way for potential lucrative oil and gas deals.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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