BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed, and U.S. mediators will now contact the two old foes separately, Israeli and Lebanese officials said on Monday.
The negotiations were launched in October, with delegations convening at a U.N. base to try to resolve a dispute about their maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said it had been agreed with the Americans that talks would be postponed for a few weeks.
“In the interim, they will do some shuttling in order to better prepare the next round of talks,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
The talks are the culmination of three years of diplomacy by Washington.
Disagreement over the sea border has discouraged oil and gas exploration near the disputed line.
The sides presented contrasting maps for proposed borders in October, sources said at the time.
“HURDLES AND BUST-UPS”
Steinitz said last week there had been no breakthrough after four rounds of talks and that Lebanon had “so far presented positions which add up to a provocation”. He said he expected “many more hurdles and bust-ups” but hoped a breakthrough could be reached in a few months.
A Lebanese security source said the reason for the delay was Israel’s rejection of Lebanese proposals.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said this month the demarcation line should start from the land point of Ras Naqoura, as defined under a 1923 agreement, and extend seaward in a trajectory that a security source said extends the disputed area to some 2,300 sq km (890 sq miles) from around 860 sq km.
Steinitz said Lebanon had now changed its position seven times and was contradicting its own assertions.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, has said the talks are not a sign of peace-making with Israel.
Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Agreement to hold the talks was announced weeks after the United States stepped up pressure on Hezbollah’s allies in Lebanon, imposing sanctions on a senior politician from its main Shi’ite ally, the Amal party.
Reporting by Beirut bureau and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Ed Osmond and Gareth Jones
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