US adviser on energy security to travel to Lebanon, Israel for border talks

Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati meets with US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein (C)and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea in Beirut.
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US mediator Amos Hochstein plans to travel to Lebanon and Israel next month to resume talks on the maritime border dispute between the two neighbors, sources familiar with the matter said.

Hochstein, the State Department’s senior advisor for global energy security, took on the role after being appointed, in August, by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to focus on reducing the risks posed by Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But his prior experience in attempting to mediate the border dispute between Beirut and Tel Aviv made him a natural pick to head the US diplomatic efforts on the maritime issue.

Hochstein is scheduled to depart Washington in the next few weeks, but dates have not been confirmed due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the US and worldwide. He was last in Lebanon in October.

Apart from his mediation efforts, Hochstein is also set to update Lebanese officials on a US-backed plan to see Egypt and Jordan sell natural gas and electricity to Beirut.

Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla was in Washington earlier this month. He said Cairo still wanted assurances that it wouldn’t be penalized for the deal under the Caesar Act sanctions on those dealing with the Assad regime.

Concerns in Washington have been voiced over the potential to fill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s pockets with money from the deal between Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

Speaking to Washington-based Al-Monitor, El Molla said Egypt was waiting for the “proper clearance” and that it was “a work in progress.”

Asked about these “clearances,” a senior US State Department official said that would not be an issue.

“They’ll get [them], and that’s not a problem,” the official said.

“Egyptian natural gas is expected to be pumped through an existing pipeline, the Arab Gas Pipeline, stretching from Arish to Taba in Egypt, all the way to Aqaba and Rehab in Jordan, then to Homs in Syria and right into Deir Ammar in Lebanon,” an Egyptian official previously told Al-Monitor. “The line stretches over 1,200 kilometers with a capacity of 7 billion cubic meters of gas annually.”

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s energy minister said repairs to the Arab Gas Pipeline would be finished for Egyptian gas to reach Lebanon by the end of February.

In an interview with CNBC last month, Hochstein said he was optimistic that gas would be flowing in the next “two, three months.”

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