US ready to mediate in Lebanese-Israeli maritime border dispute

Amos Hochstein says a resolution to the dispute is within reach if both sides are willing to reach an agreement

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, right, meets US Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein in Beirut on October 20. Reuters
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The US wants to help Lebanon tap its oil and gas wealth by mediating a resolution over a disputed maritime area with Israel, US Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein said on Thursday.

The mediator in the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border talks, speaking a day after meeting top Lebanese officials, said his visit to Beirut was aimed at understanding the Lebanese government’s position.

“If the Lebanese government and people want to move forward to find a resolution”, the US is ready to help, Mr Hochstein said in a televised interview, noting that shuttle diplomacy may precede the resumption of indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.

Mr Hochstein said a resolution to the dispute was possible if both sides are willing to reach an agreement.

Lebanon's energy woes

The senior US adviser for global energy security said his government also wants to enable long-term, sustainable power solutions in Lebanon and clear the path for deals with Egypt and Jordan.

Mr Hochstein said Lebanon will not be subject to US sanctions if it imports electricity from Jordan and gas from Egypt through Syria.

“Lebanon is not under sanctions. Syria is,” he said.

Energy Minister Walid Fayad told The National that Lebanon will be able to provide six more hours of power a day through the national grid within weeks after a deal with Egypt and Jordan.

Mr Hochstein’s visit to Lebanon comes two weeks after Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian signalled Tehran’s readiness to set up two power plants during an official visit to Beirut.

Last month, Iran also started delivering fuel to Hezbollah through Syria in defiance of US sanctions.

Lebanon’s electricity woes have intensified in recent months as the state-owned power company further rationed its supply over fuel shortages while private generators have been struggling to compensate for the long daily cuts.

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has blamed the shortages and the country’s financial meltdown on the US, accusing it of imposing an embargo on Lebanon.

Mr Hochstein denied the accusation and added that the “US administration fully supports Lebanon … but it needs to take action and reform".

“There was never a blockade … We want to see Lebanon succeed,” he said.

The World Bank described Lebanon’s crisis as one of the most severe globally since the 1850s.

The crisis, which unfolded in late 2019, has fuelled poverty, unemployment and hyperinflation, with the local currency losing more than 90 per cent of its value against the dollar and commercial banks denying depositors access to the bulk of their savings.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose government received the approval of Parliament last month, has pledged to enact reforms in exchange for international financial support.

Updated: October 21, 2021, 5:42 PM