Senior US diplomat heading to Beirut for Lebanon-Israel border talks

After a few rounds of talks at the end of last year, the US stopped the discussions when Lebanon suddenly demanded an extra 1,430 square kilometers (550 sq. miles)

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A senior US diplomat is heading to Beirut next week to try to reactivate stalled negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over their maritime borders, sources familiar with the planned trip said.

Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale is scheduled to meet with Lebanese officials to “get the ball moving again” on the maritime border negotiations that the US has long tried to mediate, a senior Lebanese source told Al Arabiya English.

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“He has a number of meetings, including with the president and others in Lebanon, in an effort to revive the border talks after they were stalled,” the source added.

Hale, the number three official at the State Department, will soon be replaced by Victoria Nuland, and his trip to Lebanon will also be a chance to bid farewell to officials he has worked with over the years.

The veteran diplomat previously served as the US ambassador to Lebanon, and he has been a frequent visitor to Beirut on diplomatic trips.

The anticipated trip is a rare sign of interest in the Middle East by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly said that China and Russia are its biggest concerns.

The State Department is expected to release details of Hale’s trip on Monday.

According to diplomatic sources, US ambassador John Desrocher will still be part of the US delegation mediating the border dispute.

Desrocher, the former US ambassador to Algeria, was tapped to lead the US delegation by the Trump administration.

Hale will not be the only senior US official in the region next week. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin landed in Israel on Sunday to meet with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Lebanon and Israel sat for their first talks in over 30 years, last year, during negotiations brokered by Washington and the United Nations. The two Mediterranean countries are technically in a state of war, but the US has tried to push both sides to reach an agreement on their borders, which have potential natural gas reserves.

At least three different US envoys have exerted significant diplomatic efforts to help resolve the dispute. In 2012, Frederic Hof, most notably, proposed dividing the disputed waters along what became the “Hof Line.” This would see Lebanon take 500 sq. km. out of the 842. This fell through.

After a few rounds of talks at the end of last year, the US stopped the discussions when Lebanon suddenly demanded an extra 1,430 square kilometers (550 sq. miles).

The entire disputed territory is 842 sq. km.

Most recently, Lebanon’s government officially adopted a new maritime border that would apparently make it difficult for Israel to drill and work in the Karish field, which is claimed by Tel Aviv.

Washington reportedly pressed Lebanon not to adopt the newly claimed border. “Now they don’t want us to push ahead with the new position on the border because it will present obstacles” for international companies to work in the waters for Israel, the Lebanese source said.

Nevertheless, Israel has and continues to pump gas from offshore fields while Lebanon has not found any reserves yet.

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