Lebanon relies on US mediation in border talks: Aoun

Lebanon “Heavily relies on the US mediating role to reach just solutions during the negotiations which began a few days ago to demarcate the southern maritime borders,” a statement from the presidency said

  
Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivers televised address to the public on eve of Lebanon's centenary at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon in this undated handout released on August 30, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivers televised address to the public on eve of Lebanon's centenary at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon in this undated handout released on August 30, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun stressed the importance of the US mediating role in negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on land and maritime border demarcation during a meeting with the State Department's top diplomat for the Middle East Friday.

Lebanon “Heavily relies on the US mediating role to reach just solutions during the negotiations which began a few days ago to demarcate the southern maritime borders,” a statement from the presidency said.

“This role can help overcome difficulties which may hinder the negotiation process,” Aoun was quoted as saying.

US assistant secretary of Near Eastern affairs David Schenker affirmed the continued role of the US in mediating the talks between the two countries and expressed his hope that negotiations will be completed as soon as possible and reach positive results.

Some confusion has circulated regarding the wording of the Arabic presidential statement, which claimed that Schenker “praised” Aoun’s efforts at fighting corruption during the meeting.

However, US Embassy spokesperson in Beirut Casey Bonfield clarified that Schenker in fact only urged the president to “wield the metaphorical sword of transparency and change the governing paradigm.”

Schenker then visited former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with whom he discussed regional developments and the framework agreement for the Lebanon-Israel border demarcation talks, according to a statement from Hariri's office. Hariri is slated to become the next premier as he has received the backing of a majority of parliamentary blocs, with binding consultations scheduled for next week.

Lebanese and Israeli delegations Wednesday formally marked the start of indirect talks to demarcate their maritime border, having spent years wrangling over how to approach negotiations on allocating the contested and potentially hydrocarbon rich waters.

Schenker, who arrived in Beirut Tuesday evening, and UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis attended the historic opening session.

Under the framework, negotiators from each side sit at the same table but do not talk directly to each other. Instead, they address a UN mediator. Career diplomat John Desrocher, now US ambassador to Algeria, is the mediator from the US side.

The talks will focus on how to allocate the approximately 856 square kilometers of disputed waters that both Lebanon and Israel claim to be part of their own exclusive economic zone.

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