Israel expects to launch U.S.-mediated talks within a month with Lebanon on setting their maritime border, Energy Minister Yuval Steintiz said on Wednesday.
Lebanon has not commented publicly on whether it would attend talks or on any possible timeline.
“I hope that in the next month, during this summer, that we will begin negotiations,” Steinitz told Reshet 13 television. “They said that yes, they are prepared to sit and solve the dispute but there are still the terms (to be agreed).”
Israel and Lebanon both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with an economic crisis. Washington is mediating between the two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel's creation in 1948.
The United States, which has been sending a senior envoy on shuttle missions between Lebanon and Israel, also has not announced a date or venue but said it is prepared to help them resolve the dispute.
The envoy, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield, has been travelling between Israel and Lebanon to try to lower tensions, which have also stemmed from a land border dispute.
Formally at war since Israel’s 1948 founding, the neighbors have long disagreed on border demarcations in the eastern Mediterranean, an issue that gained prominence in the past decade when large deposits of natural gas were found there.
Steinitz said that it was likely that as soon as the talks begin, energy groups operating in both Israeli and Lebanese waters will be able to carry out the first seismological survey of the disputed area.
He said that he expected an agreement between the two countries to be reached within six to nine months.
Among the bridging proposals put forward by both sides was for international energy groups, operating in both Israeli and Lebanese waters, to carry out the first seismological survey of the disputed area, the Israeli official said.
Steinitz said last month that Israel was open to U.S.-mediated talks on the sea border.
Earlier this month, a senior Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that Israel expects the negotiations "will begin already in the coming weeks."
If there were talks, the official said, they would address only the maritime border and not the land frontier.