Lebanon, Israel announce U.N.-mediated talks over sea border

Lebanon and Israel have reached an agreement on a framework of indirect, talks over a longstanding disputed maritime border between the two countries the parties announced Thursday.

The talks will be held at the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura under the banner of the United Nations. In separate statements Thursday announcing the talks, the sides did not disclose when they would begin.

The agreement “will allow both countries to begin discussions, which have the potential to yield greater stability, security, and prosperity for Lebanese and Israeli citizens alike,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. He added that the agreement is the result of nearly three years of diplomatic engagement by U.S. officials.

An Israeli official said last week that a deal had been reached, but there was no immediate Lebanese or U.S. confirmation at the time.

“We are hoping to start direct negotiations in the near future. Our presumptive goal is to arrive at a peaceful resolution on the matter of the Exclusive Economic Zone bordering between Israel and Lebanon in a way that benefits both neighboring nations,” Israel Energy minister said in a statement.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones.

Indirect talks mean that Lebanese army negotiators will not be speaking directly to members of the Israeli delegation but through U.N. and U.S. officials.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon known as, UNIFIL, welcomed the agreement saying it stands ready “to extend to the parties all the support at its disposal and facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this issue.”

The United States has been mediating between Lebanon and Israel since 2010 until a breakthrough was reached in July on the framework for the indirect talks, according to Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who announced the deal Thursday.

He said the U.S. mediation stalled but it received a push in March last year during a visit to Beirut by Pompeo during which he discussed the dispute with Lebanese officials.

Three of Lebanon’s 10 offshore blocks are along the disputed maritime border with Israel.