BEIRUT (Reuters) -The Lebanese and Syrian presidents discussed delineating their countries’ shared maritime border on Saturday before a visit to Damascus next week by a Lebanese delegation tasked with negotiating the issue, a Lebanese official said.
A dispute over their shared sea boundary emerged last year after Syria granted a licence to a Russian energy company to begin maritime exploration in an area Lebanon claimed. Several gas discoveries have been made in the eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun earlier said demarcating the border would be next after Lebanon agreed its southern maritime boundary with longtime foe Israel following years of indirect U.S.-mediated talks.
Aoun told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Lebanon was keen “to begin negotiations with Syria to delineate its northern maritime boundary,” the Lebanese official told Reuters after Saturday’s talks.
Aoun then tasked Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of parliament who negotiated on behalf of Lebanon in the indirect talks over the boundary with Israel, to head a delegation to Damascus next week to kickstart discussions, the official said.
The delegation would include the Lebanese foreign and transport ministers as well as the head of the General Security agency Abbas Ibrahim, the official added.
Syria’s Sham FM radio reported that details of the delineation had yet to be discussed and that Assad proposed holding direct talks via the countries’ foreign ministries.
The two leaders discussed delineation last year.
Aoun’s term as president of Lebanon, which is the midst of a deep political and economic crisis, ends on Oct. 31. Three parliamentary sessions have failed to elect a successor.
Assad secured another seven-year term last year in an election derided by Syria’s opposition and the West as a farce. The vote was held after the government regained control of much of the territory lost to opponents in a conflict that erupted in 2011.
(Reporting by Maya Gebeily in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Writing by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Edmund Blair)