Abi Khalil: U.S. Team in Beirut Soon to Mediate Maritime Dispute with Israel

Washington will soon send a delegation to Beirut to resume discussions over the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil has revealed.

In an interview with the Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal magazine, Abi Khalil said he met during his recent visit to the U.S. with the newly-appointed special envoy, who told him that there is an inclination to renew the efforts that had been launched by the previous U.S. administration.

The Lebanese government approved the long-awaited offshore oil and gas exploration decrees on January 4, describing them as its first achievement. The key decrees pave the way for oil and gas extraction off Lebanon’s coast, after more than two years of political deadlock had stymied previous efforts.

Lebanon’s successive governments, beset by infighting and corruption, made only marginal progress toward that goal.

Lebanon and Israel are bickering over a zone that consists of about 854 square kilometers and suspected energy reserves that could generate billions of dollars.

Lebanon has been slow to exploit its maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all much more advanced in drilling for oil and gas.

In March 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 34.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes the territorial waters of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Cyprus.

Lebanese officials have continuously warned that Israel’s exploration of new offshore gas fields near Lebanese territorial waters means Israel is siphoning some of Lebanon’s crude oil.

Lebanon argues that a maritime map it submitted to the U.N. is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949, an agreement which is not contested by Israel.