A high-level US delegation, including the new diplomat tasked with mediating the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border dispute, is expected to visit Beirut later this month, sources familiar with the matter said.
Amos Hochstein, who US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tapped in August as a senior advisor for energy security, will travel to Lebanon with a delegation from Foggy Bottom, a US official told Al Arabiya English.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland is also likely to make the trip after Blinken’s visit to Paris, scheduled for next week.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, the official confirmed recent reports that Hochstein would be the new point person for indirect border negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.
The State Department said it could not confirm the trip at this point.
A State Department spokesperson later confirmed Al Arabiya English’s earlier reporting that Hochstein would take on the new role. “We can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as US mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he held during the Obama Administration. He looks to build upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year,” the official said in an email.
Government sources in Lebanon said they had heard reports of the trip, but that they did not have anything officially scheduled.
Lebanese officials recently formed a government after going for over a year without one. Decades of mismanagement, sectarianism and corruption led to an unprecedented financial and economic crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic and the Aug. 4 Beirut blast exacerbated the crisis, which has led to thousands of Lebanese fleeing the country.
The United States and much of the international community have pledged billions of dollars of aid, soft loans and grants; however, most of the money is contingent upon implementing anti-corruption reforms.
With the Afghanistan withdrawal presenting a massive headache and challenge for President Joe Biden and a priority of countering Russia and China, Lebanon has fallen down to the list of priorities for the White House.
Nuland and Hochstein would be the most senior delegation to visit Beirut under the Biden administration.
Pentagon officials have made trips to Lebanon, and the military-to-military relationship remains a robust one, according to officials.
Israeli-born Hochstein will take over the role, which was being carried out by John Desrocher, former ambassador to Algeria and current US Charge d’Affaires in Qatar.
Talks between Beirut and Israel have stalled after an initial few rounds of negotiations held under the auspices of the UN and brokered by Washington. The discussions have solely been focused on the disputed maritime border where large deposits of natural gas are believed to be.
The US has tried to mediate a solution for years but to no avail. Under the Trump administration, officials from both sides finally agreed to sit in one room and begin hashing out their differences.
Hochstein brings to the table experience in the matter as he briefly tried to mediate while the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs from 2014-2017.
*This has been edited to include a statement from the US State Department, sent after Al Arabiya English published this article, on Amos Hochstein.