Lebanon, Israel Begin Long-awaited Sea-border Talks
Lebanese and Israeli officials have begun maritime border talks, the first discussions between the two countries in 30 years that are not of a security or emergency nature. The talks got underway on Wednesday at 10 am at a base used by UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force, in Nakoura, a Lebanese coastal town just north of the border with Israel. Although the negotiators are seated in the same tent, they are not speaking directly. Rather, United Nations personnel, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker and US Ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher are conveying messages back and forth. The talks were spurred by the discovery of rich offshore natural-gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean over the past couple of decades, with both sides claiming some 330 square miles of the same waters for their exclusive economic zone. Lebanon is currently mired in a deep economic crisis brought on by staggering foreign debt, and prior to the beginning of Wednesday’s session, Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbi was quoted as saying, “We have nothing to lose” and therefore “there is no interest in making concessions.” Both sides, officially at war for over 70 years, insist they do not see the talks leading to any type of normalization.