August 15, 2019 / 8:44 PM / 7 days ago

Lebanon's Hariri hopes for decision in September on sea border talks

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) shakes hands with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri after their meeting at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday after talks in Washington that he hoped for a final decision, possibly in September, on a proposal for resolving a maritime border dispute with Israel on a gas pipeline.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Lebanon’s commitment to the talks and reiterated Washington’s willingness to facilitate discussions.

“We consider the process to be viable and will continue to support constitutional next steps leading up to a final decision in the coming months, hopefully September,” Hariri said in a statement to the press after meetings with Pompeo.

Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel - which it regards as an enemy country - over a sea area of about 860 square km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.

Senior U.S. official David Satterfield has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel trying to launch the talks between the countries, which have remained formally in a state of war since Israel was founded in 1948.

In his statement, Pompeo said a resolution to the dispute would “be greatly beneficial” to Lebanon and the region.

“We are prepared to participate as a mediator and a facilitator in the maritime discussions, and we do hope that we will soon see substantive discussions on these important issues,” he said. “The right solution...will be greatly beneficial to Lebanon and the greater region.”

Lebanon last year licensed a consortium of Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek to carry out the country’s first offshore energy exploration in two blocks. One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel.

Lebanese leaders have repeatedly warned Israel not to encroach on its offshore oil and gas reserves.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Leslie Adler

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