Israel agrees to Lebanon border talk demands

Israel has agreed to Lebanon’s conditions to negotiate the countries’ border disputes, a senior U.S. diplomat told Lebanese officials Monday, according to two sources briefed on the conversations.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield delivered the news in meetings with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Satterfield told officials that Israel had agreed to two important Lebanese demands: that the United Nations be involved in the mediation, and that both land and sea disputes be resolved together.

Now, however, Lebanese officials are looking for guarantees and trying to pin down the details of the negotiations – the who, where and how of the talks, as well as priorities and dispute resolution mechanisms so that a small disagreement doesn’t send negotiators back to square one.

“The devil is in the details,” a source at the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.

Both sources said the developments were “positive” and talks were making “forward progress.”

An official statement from the speaker’s office said, “There is progress in the efforts by … Satterfield, but it is not over.”

Satterfield is scheduled to depart for Israel Tuesday, one source said, and would return to Lebanon next week. These will be the latest legs in his shuttle diplomacy between the two Mediterranean enemies.

Satterfield had visited Lebanon last week, where he discussed the demarcation of the land and maritime border dispute with President Michel Aoun, Berri, Hariri and Bassil. After his visit, he traveled to Tel Aviv to pitch Beirut’s stance on the issue.

Satterfield has expressed Washington’s readiness – if Israel and Lebanon agree on a new mechanism to resolve the maritime dispute – to be a party in the talks as a “facilitator,” political sources previously said.

The United Nations-demarcated Blue Line, which currently separates Lebanon and Israel’s land territory with over 200 points, contains at least 13 disputed points by the Lebanese government.

Around 856 square kilometers of waters is disputed; Lebanon and Israel each claims the area to be part of its exclusive economic zone.