Lebanon maritime negotiator in US as sea border talks enter ‘final stages’

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Lebanon’s point-person for US-mediated talks to demarcate its maritime border with Israel has arrived in New York, while Lebanese President Michel Aoun says negotiations for a rare deal between the two enemy states have entered their “final stages.”

Elias Bou Saab, deputy speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, is set to meet with US mediator Amos Hochstein to work out a few remaining disagreements related to the maritime deal, a senior source familiar with the state of negotiations told Reuters.

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Aoun wrote on Twitter earlier on Monday that negotiations had reached the “final stages” in a way that guarantees Lebanon’s rights to explore for oil and gas.

A maritime deal between the two states would help determine which oil and gas resources belong to which country, pave the way for more exploration and could help avert conflict between heavily armed Hezbollah and its sworn enemy Israel.

Hezbollah has vowed not to allow Israel to extract gas from its Karish gas field near the disputed sea area before Lebanon can move forward with its own exploration in a location that straddles the proposed border line.

The source said that Lebanon was set to receive an official US-mediated proposal on the border arrangement last week but officials involved in the talks decided to try to work out remaining disagreements in an informal manner to avoid an official rejection that could delay a deal.

“Both sides agreed to postpone a few days to allow for more discussions. It’s diplomacy racing against tensions,” the source said.

A deal would represent a rare diplomatic breakthrough between two states with a history of conflict.

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