US-mediated Lebanon-Israel talks on border at sea to resume

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, a helicopter flies over a base of the U.N. peacekeeping force, where U.S.-mediated talks were held over a disputed maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, in the southern town of Naqoura, Lebanon. Lebanon’s outgoing minister of public works said Monday, April 12, 2021, that he has signed a decree, in a unilateral move, that would increase the area claimed by Lebanon in a maritime border dispute with Israel. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)
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BEIRUT (AP) — Months after they stalled, indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel over their disputed maritime border are to resume next week, a U.S.-mediating team said.

Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.

The negotiations first began last in October and stopped a few weeks later. They were the first non-security talks between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war.

Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. But in the second round of talks, the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army officers and experts — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) for Lebanon.

The U.S. team, led by Ambassador John Desrocher, will arrive in Lebanon Monday ahead of the resumption of the talks on Tuesday. The U.S. State Department said the resumption would be a “positive step towards a long-awaited resolution.”

The previous rounds of the U.S-mediated talks, hosted by the U.N., took place at a border post. Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz is leading the negotiations for the Israeli side.

Earlier this month, Lebanon's outgoing public works minister, Michel Najjar, signed a decree extending Lebanon’s claim to include additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) at sea, though the decree still requires the president's signature. The Lebanese government resigned in August and is acting in a caretaker capacity. Efforts to form a new one have so far failed.

Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Officials in Lebanon, which is going through its worst economic crisis, hope its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its troubles.