July 2, 2015
BEIRUT: Visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy Amos Hochstein met Thursday with Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and other officials over Lebanon’s oil dispute with Israel.

Discussions focused on the disputed maritime border zone with Israel that comprises 870 kilometers of water off Lebanon’s southern coast, a statement released by Berri’s media office said.

The meeting with Berri was held in presence of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale and Berri’s political adviser Ali Hamdan.

Berri has repeatedly accused Israel of planning to build an oil platform close to Lebanon’s official territorial waters, warning that it is capable of siphoning off a part of Lebanon’s potential gas reserves horizontally, which could trigger a war between the two countries.

“This is a continuous relationship that we should fortify, in particular on the level of energy and economic development to serve Lebanon’s interests,” Hochstein told reporters after talks with Bassil.

“We will continue to work together in the near future and exchange ideas to achieve progress in the energy sector and create new jobs,” he added.

Hochstein also met with Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Thursday. On Wednesday, Hochstein met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian.

A U.S. embassy statement said Hochstein “encouraged officials to take advantage of Lebanon’s potential to attract investment to successfully develop its hydrocarbon sector.”

The disputed zone is suspected to contain large quantities of natural gas and Lebanon is demanding the demarcation of the area with the help of the U.N. and other concerned parties.

Technically and legally, the United Nations does not have the mandate to demarcate disputed borders between countries.

However, Lebanese officials insist that the U.N. has an interest in taking steps to avoid an open conflict between Lebanon and Israel.