Lebanon protest US conditions at maritime talks with Israel

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday there should be no preconditions for talks with Israel over their Mediterranean border dispute.

Negotiations between the old foes were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute, which has held up exploration in the potentially gas-rich area, yet the talks have since stalled.

A statement by the Lebanese presidency issued after the resumption of talks on Tuesday said the U.S. mediator had asked for negotiations to be on the basis of Israeli and Lebanese border lines already submitted and registered with the United Nations.

“This is against the Lebanese position,” the statement said.

“President Aoun has given his instructions to the negotiating team that talks should not be tied to any preconditions and should rely on international law that will remain the basis for reaching a fair solution.”

The earlier talks stalled after each side presented contrasting maps outlining proposed borders that actually increased the size of the disputed area.

Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields. Lebanon, which has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.

Tuesday’s statement did not make clear when the next session of the talks, which are taking place at a U.N. peacekeepers’ base in Lebanon’s Naqoura, will take place.

One official Lebanese source told Reuters the meetings would continue on Wednesday with Lebanon asking for them to be on the basis of an additional area, not the one registered originally at the United Nations.

Since the talks stalled, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister and ministers of defense and public works approved a draft decree which would expand Lebanon’s claim, adding around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to its exclusive economic zone.

The draft decree has yet to be approved by the president.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.

Tuesday’s talks ended after five hours with no official statement. Hours later, President Michel Aoun said Lebanon’s delegation should negotiate with no preconditions.

Lebanon’s delegation, made up of a mix of army officers and experts, had adjusted the country’s claim in talks late last year, drawing up maps that push for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) for Lebanon. The talks then broke down, only to resume Tuesday.

Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel began in October to try to resolve the dispute which has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area, but the talks stalled and the negotiations were paused in early December.

The countries held four rounds of talks hosted by the United Nations at a peacekeepers base in Ras Naquora, the culmination of nearly a decade of diplomacy by the United States.

The resumption comes after a new US administration took over.