U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker told reporters on Tuesday that Israel and Lebanon are "getting closer" to reaching a U.S.-mediated agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border between them.
"I think we’re getting closer, but this will open the opportunity for both Lebanon and Israel to start to make – actually make some real progress," said Schenker, adding that he hopes "to be able to come over to Lebanon and then sign this agreement in the coming weeks."
The preliminary framework agreement for talks is supposed to settle the dispute over the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, which stems from natural gas exploration. At the center of the controversy is Block 9, a gas field whose location is disputed between the states.
Quiet talks on the issue began in 2019 under the auspices of a Trump administration mediator, David Satterfield; until then, many mediation attempts had failed.
Lebanon's willingness to advance talks has stemmed, among other things, from its dire economic situation, as the ongoing dispute with Israel made it difficult to expand the country's gas sector.
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Hezbollah's position also made contacts difficult, but over the years the organization has softened its position, apparently in anticipation of reaping the benefits from the local gas industry.
The United States hope that an agreement on maritime borders will open the door to further contacts between the two Middle Eastern neighbors. This coincides with an extensive U.S.-Israeli campaign to weaken Hezbollah's power on the political front as well.
The United States expanded sanctions related to Lebanon on Tuesday by blacklisting two former government ministers, including Amal's Ali Hassan Khalil. It said the two men had aided Hezbollah, which Washington brands a terrorist group