uly 18, 2013 01:00 AM
By Mohamad El Amin

BEIRUT: The U.S. offered Wednesday to help mediate a dispute between Lebanon and Israel over the demarcation of maritime borders, Lebanese officials said after meeting with the top American energy diplomat. Both Lebanon and Israel have claimed a disputed maritime area of 874 square kilometers, which holds large reserves of natural gas, as a part of their respective Exclusive Economic Zones.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy Amos Hochstein held talks with President Michel Sleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the morning before meeting later in the afternoon with caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil.

“We received new ideas as a part of the U.S. efforts to find a solution to the issue of the [disputed] southern maritime borders,” Bassil said after meeting Hochstein.

Bassil added that Lebanon sought a comprehensive solution that guaranteed its right to tap its hydrocarbon resources in full rather than only reaching an agreement over the demarcation of maritime borders.

“There is positivity from all sides,” Bassil said.

Experts have pointed out that the delimitation of maritime borders is only the first step and future agreements may be required regardingreservoirs that cross the borders.

Bassil warned last week that the recent Israeli discovery of a new gas field 4 km from the Lebanese coast meant Israel could easily siphon off Lebanon’s gas wealth.

In May, Noble Energy, a U.S.-based company working offshore Israel, announced a natural gas discovery named Karish, 32 km northeast of the Tamar field, in very close proximity to Lebanon’s EEZ.

The Lebanese and Israeli dispute have so far hampered the ratification of the Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, defining Exclusive Economic Zones between the three countries.

While Lebanon has identified a equidistant point between the three countries as the southwestern limit of its EEZ, Israel considers a spot around 17 km north of there as the endpoint of its northern maritime border.

Despite the disagreement on maritime borders, experts say Lebanon could still tap the natural gas wealth in 22,000 square meters of its EEZ without risking a conflict with Israel, since the vast majority of deposits have nothing to do with the relatively small disputed maritime area.

Bassil said during the news conference that a draft revenue-sharing agreement has been submitted by the Cypriot side to Lebanon.

Earlier in the day, Sleiman’s office highlighted the U.S readiness to help Lebanon tap its oil and gas wealth.

“Hochstein conveyed his country’s support and readiness to help Lebanon, praising what has been achieved already [by Lebanon] regarding its oil and gas wealth,” a statement by Sleiman’s office said. “[The U.S. official] also expressed his country’s desires to help Lebanon develop its sector through the experience of U.S. [oil and gas] companies.”

Hochstein “encouraged the Energy and Water Ministry’s continued commitment to implement fair, transparent regulations to develop the energy sector in a way that promotes Lebanon’s peace and prosperity and reiterated the United States’ commitment to support in these efforts,” a statement released by the U.S. embassy Wednesday afternoon said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 18, 2013, on page 5.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Business/Lebanon/2013/Jul-18/224077-us-offers-help-with-maritime-border-dispute.ashx#ixzz2ZWu4H1jp
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)