BEIRUT // The United States has said it will back neither Israel nor Lebanon in a dispute between the two nations tied to offshore economic zones where oil and gas have been discovered.
"The US notes that Lebanon in October 2010 and Israel in July 2011 have submitted to the United Nations claims to their adjacent exclusive economic zone limits," the US Embassy in Beirut said in an e-mailed statement over the weekend. "The United States has not and will not endorse either Israel or Lebanon's claim. We are not a party to this issue, which must be resolved diplomatically by the parties themselves."
The embassy also said the US "would like to see Israel and Lebanon arrive at a common understanding" of the division of their exclusive economic zones.
The comments came several days after Michael Williams, the United Nations co-ordinator for Lebanon, urged both countries to promote oil and gas exploration off their coasts despite the dispute over their maritime border.
Lebanon is seeking to catch up after Israel in 2009 discovered enough fuel off its northern coast to supply itself and potentially start exports. Lebanon passed a petroleum law last year, paving the way for assigning exploration areas.
Israel has discovered two fields off its Mediterranean coast, naming them Tamar and Leviathan, which together hold an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. For comparison, Qatar has 899 trillion cubic feet of proved reserves.
The finds set off arguments between Lebanon and Israel, still technically at war, over the rights to the resources.
Lebanon will start to auction oil and gas-exploration licences in its territorial waters at the end of this year after the necessary decrees and procedures are complete, Prime Minister Najib Miqati told parliamentarians this month.
In his comments to reporters last week, Mr Williams said Lebanon was about seven years behind Israel in exploring the gas fields.
Gas production would allow Lebanon to cut power costs. It provides as much as US$1.5 billion a year in subsidies to the state electricity company, which supplies more than 90 per cent of the power and suffers regular blackouts.
* Bloomberg News and the Associated Press