BEIRUT — US envoy Amos Hochstein on Thursday that he is to "assess" the possibility of negotiations between the land border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, which he will do after "hearing the views" of Israeli officials.
"During the past couple of days, I’ve been here to listen to the views of the Lebanese government and to go down south and see for myself the Blue Line and the surrounding areas and learn more about what is needed in order to potentially achieve an outcome," Hochstein said in a press conference from Beirut airport.
Hochstein was the mediator in the recently brokered maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel.
Resolving long disputes
"It is now time to hear from the other side [the Israelis] about what their views are and to asses if this is the right time and if we have a window of opportunity in able to achieve it," Hochstein said when asked about a possible land border deal with Israel.
"The United States clearly supports what enables stability and security and resolving long disputes is always something for the benefit of the country and the case of Lebanon as we talked about economic and political reforms if we can match it with security and the kind of security that demonstrates to the rest of the world that the country is good and open for business in a reliable manner it would be good for everyone."
"I hope that I can evaluate the situation more," he added.
Hochstein had arrived in Beirut on Wednesday for a whirlwind tour, between official meetings and symbolic "touristic" visits.
On photos on the X platform (formerly Twitter) on Thursday, the US embassy had revealed the envoy had visited on Wednesday the historic ruins of Baalbeck in the Bekaa, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Hochstein was accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea.
Speaking to L'Orient-Le Jour, a source close to the security services in the Bekaa region as well as a source at the US Embassy confirmed the US envoy's visit to Baalbeck on Wednesday. The US Embassy did not provide any further details. Baalbeck is a city in which Hezbollah is known to have significant support and influence. This visit also follows Hezbollah's inauguratation of a "jihad museum" in Baalbeck on Aug. 26.
According to the source close to the security services, there was a high level of secrecy ahead of the visit, with Hochstein arriving by helicopter and accompanied by a large security detail.
The visit took place in the afternoon, after a meeting between Hochstein and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and before his meeting with caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad. The US envoy also visited Sheikh Abdallah's military barracks.
Shortly after his arrival in Lebanon on Wednesday, the envoy also used X to share a photo of himself and Shea having breakfast on the terrace of a restaurant in Beirut, with the sea as a backdrop.
A press release issued on Wednesday morning by the American diplomatic representation states that the purpose of Hochstein's visit is to follow up on the agreement on the delimitation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, which was signed in October 2022.
Meanwhile, the head of Iranian diplomacy, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, also began a tour in Lebanon on Thursday after visiting Syria.
On Wednesday, Hochstein visited Ain al-Tineh, where he held talks for an hour with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in the presence of Ambassador Shea.
The same day, the US envoy also met the commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Army, Gen. Joseph Aoun.
Avoiding any escalation
According to Lebanese and Western sources, the main objective of Hochstein's visit is to stress the importance of maintaining stability on the southern border.
The US envoy's priority is therefore to avert any military escalation, especially after the recent threats exchanged between Israeli officials and Hezbollah. Stability on the border remains paramount in Washington's eyes, especially as exploration for hydrocarbons in Lebanon's offshore Block 9 has just begun.
Hochstein's visit comes 10 months after the historic maritime border agreement that was signed in October 2022 between Lebanon and Israel, in which he was a key player.
This agreement enabled Lebanon to unblock the exploration and exploitation process for Block 9, one of the three blocks located south of its Exclusive Economic Zone and operated by a consortium led by TotalEnergies and including Italy's Eni and QatarEnergy.
Drilling to confirm the presence of offshore hydrocarbon reserves began in August, and results are expected before the end of the year. The Energy Ministry has also just granted a license authorizing two companies to complete the 3D seismic survey of Block 8, which adjoins Block 9.