Naqura Lebanon-Lebanon and Israel, still technically at war, held unprecedented talks under UN and US auspices Wednesday to settle a maritime border dispute and clear the way for oil and gas exploration within “reasonable time”.

In a joint statement afterwards, the United States and the United Nations said the talks had been “productive” and that the delegates had “reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month”.  Following years of US shuttle diplomacy, Lebanon and Israel this month said they had agreed to begin UN-brokered negotiations, in what Washington hailed as a “historic” agreement. The talks, held at a UN peacekeeping force base in the Lebanese border town of Naqura, lasted for around one hour and came weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab states to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

This has prompted suspicions that the flurry of US-sponsored diplomacy relating to Israel is meant to boost President Donald Trump in his re-election campaign.

A second round of negotiations will be held on October 28. Wednesday’s talks marked a “first step in the thousand-mile march towards the demarcation” of the sea frontier, Brigadier General Bassam Yassin, head of Lebanon’s delegation, said according to an army statement. 

“We are looking to achieve a pace of negotiations that would allow us to conclude this dossier within reasonable time.”

The Naqura talks, which focused exclusively on the disputed sea frontier, came at a sensitive time as Lebanon, battered by multiple crises, hopes to continue exploring for oil and gas in a part of the Mediterranean also claimed by Israel.

US envoy David Schenker facilitated the opening session along with US ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher, who was the mediator.

Security was tight, with roads in the area blocked by UN peacekeepers and Lebanese troops, and helicopters flying overhead. 

Israel sent a six-member team, including the director general of its energy ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser and the head of the army’s strategic division.

Lebanon’s four-member delegation comprised two army officers, an official and a maritime border law expert.