US high-level delegation, including Hochstein, visits Lebanon

A high-level US delegation, including the new diplomat in charge of mediating the Lebanese-Israeli Maritime Border dispute, is expected to visit Beirut later this month, sources familiar with the matter said.

Amos Hochstein, who tapped US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August as a… senior advisor energy security, will travel to Lebanon with a delegation from Foggy Bottom, a US official told Al Arabiya English.

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State Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland is also likely to make the trip after Blinken’s visit to Paris, which is scheduled for next week.

Speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, the official confirmed recent reports that Hochstein would be the new point of contact for indirect border negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.

The State Department said it could not confirm the trip at this time.

A State Department spokesman later confirmed Al Arabiya English’s earlier reporting that Hochstein would take on the new role. “We can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as US mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he conducted during the Obama administration. He appears to be building on the strong work Ambassador John Desrocher has done over the past year,” the official said in an email.

Government sources in Lebanon said they had heard reports of the trip, but nothing was officially planned.

Lebanese officials recently formed a government after more than a year without a government. Decades of mismanagement, sectarianism and corruption led to a unprecedented financial and economic crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic and the explosion in Beirut on August 4 have exacerbated the crisis, causing thousands of Lebanese to flee the country.

The United States and much of the international community have pledged billions of dollars in aid, soft loans and grants; however, most of the money depends on implementing anti-corruption reforms.

With the withdrawal of Afghanistan a huge headache and challenge for President Joe Biden and a priority to counter Russia and China, Lebanon has fallen to the White House priority list.

Nuland and Hochstein would be the highest-ranking delegation to visit Beirut under Biden’s administration.

Pentagon officials have made trips to Lebanon and the military-to-military relationship remains robust, officials say.

(L to R) UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis, US Assistant Secretary David Schenker, US Ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, October 14, 2020. (File photo: AFP)

border dispute

Israeli-born Hochstein will take over the role, which was performed by John Desrocher, former ambassador to Algeria and current US chargé d’affaires in Qatar.

Talks between Beirut and Israel have stalled after an initial few rounds of negotiations under the auspices of the UN and brokered by Washington. The discussions focused solely on the disputed maritime border, which is believed to contain large amounts of natural gas.

The US has been trying to mediate for a solution for years, but in vain. Under the Trump administration, officials from both parties eventually agreed to sit in one room and discuss their differences.

Hochstein brings to the fore experience in the case when he briefly tried to mediate as the State Department’s Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs from 2014-2017.

Read more: US announces new sanctions against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran’s Quds Force

*Edited to include a statement from the US State Department sent after Al Arabiya English published this article on Amos Hochstein.

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