BEIRUT — Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel Karim Ali, said in a statement Tuesday that the visit of a Lebanese delegation to Syria to discuss the maritime border between the two countries, which had been planned for Wednesday, was not canceled but rather "postponed," citing a "misunderstanding" over timing.
After a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, the diplomat said there was a "misunderstanding about the date of the visit of the Lebanese delegation to Syria during the phone call between Presidents Michel Aoun and Bashar al-Assad," according to public remarks reported by the daily al-Joumhouriya. "So I asked the Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab to send a letter to set the date of the visit, but the letter arrived late," the ambassador said. "The visit was not canceled but postponed, due to lack of availability on the Syrian side," he added, without giving a new date to this visit. According to the Lebanese news site Elnashra, the ambassador said that "the date of the visit was announced by Lebanon before discussing it with Syria."
Michel Aoun had discussed on Saturday with his Syrian counterpart the delimitation of the maritime border between the two countries. He then tasked Bou Saab to lead a delegation that would go to Syria for this purpose and on Monday morning named the members of this delegation. The group was to include caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and General Security head Abbas Ibrahim.
A source in Baabda told L'Orient Today on Monday that the visit had been canceled due to "prior engagements from the Syrian side." A diplomatic source told Reuters that it was "not the right time" for a visit.
A dispute over the common maritime border between Lebanon and Syria emerged last year after Syria granted a license to a Russian energy company to begin maritime exploration in an area claimed by Lebanon. Several gas discoveries have been made in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years. Aoun had earlier said that maritime demarcation with Syria would be the next step after Lebanon agreed on its southern maritime border with Israel, the result of years of indirect talks brokered by the United States.