| 1 March 2024, Friday |

“This indirect agreement fulfills Lebanese demands and fully preserves our rights,” Lebanese president tells nation

The following is the address by the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, to the Nation on the southern maritime border deal: “My fellow Lebanese ladies and gentlemen,

My message to you today will touch upon one subject related to the arduous and difficult negotiations that Lebanon has been engaged in over the past ten years to demarcate its southern maritime borders and extract its oil, and which have been positively concluded. I hope this will be a promising start that would lay the foundations for an economic jump-start that Lebanon needs by completing oil and gas exploration with a view to achieving stability, security and development our country Lebanon needs.

Hence, following consultations with Parliament Speaker Mr. Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Mr. Najib Mikati, in my capacity as Head of State, after being informed by US President Joe Biden of Israel’s approval, and after the Israeli government declared its agreement, I declare Lebanon’s position of approving the adoption of the final version prepared by the American mediator for the demarcation of the southern maritime borders, awaiting signature of the necessary texts by the Americans and Israelis, in accordance with the established agreement.

This indirect agreement responds to the Lebanese claims and fully preserves our rights. I thank everyone who stood by Lebanon in this achievement which would not have been possible without the unity and steadfastness of the Lebanese position in resisting all pressures, making no substantive concessions, and not engaging in any kind of rejected normalization.

My dearly beloved,

As you undoubtedly know, the milestone reached yesterday inthe maritime demarcation file and in the subsequent exploration and extraction, was not the work of a moment, but the fruit of a long process that actually began in 2010 when the Ministry of Energy and Water, which was then headed by Minister GebranBassil, prepared the Offshore Petroleum Resources Draft Law, which was approved in Parliament on August 17, 2010, as well as the issuance of 25 decrees concerned with the rules and regulations governing petroleum activities, in addition to the establishment of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration .

Also, Lebanon’s first offshore licensing round was launched in May 2013. We hope that the decree dividing the Lebanese offshore into blocks and the Model Exploration and Production Agreement decree, which is supposed to be signed with the awarded companies, will be approved.

The launch of the first licensing round attracted 54 of the world’s largest companies, which expressed their desire to be granted licenses. However, the political wrangling and the arguments that were invoked by some parties, in addition to attempts made by others to hamper the vital projects that the ministerial team which represented us in successive governments was working onfor purely political motives, have curbed the impulse andcurtailed both decrees, and this trend continued for more than four years.

When I became President of the Republic, my concern was to remove the obstacles derailing the process, because I was aware of what it means for Lebanon to be an oil-producing country.

Thus, I insisted on including the two remaining decrees to close the licensing round, in the first item on the agenda of the first cabinet meeting held in January 2017 after the government won the vote of confidence. Following the approval of both decrees, the qualification round was launched in preparation for the licensing round. In the meantime, the Council of Ministers approved Lebanon’s accession to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; thus, Lebanon became the fifty-second country to join this initiative. In March 2017, 54 companies were qualified to participate in the first licensing round, which was closed on October 12, 2017. The exploration and production contracts in Blocks 4 and 9 have been awarded to a single consortium comprising the French “Total”, the Italian “ENI” and the Russian “Novatek” companies. On February 27, 2020, I followed up the field mission undertaken by “Total” vessel to drill the first well in Block No. 4. However, the work has stalled for reasons I was not convinced of; this happened in conjunction with the blockade and collapse Lebanon began to endure.

My dearly beloved,

Parallel to the work on oil and gas exploration, Lebanon had to activate the maritime borders demarcation process, especially the southern borders, and fix the errors that occurred in the demarcation with Cyprus, which Israel exploited to send to the United Nations Line No. 1; but then, Lebanon submitted to the United Nations Line 23, which was defined by Decree No. 6433 in 2011.

Still, many years of negotiations and discussions on the maritime borders have passed, and there had only been the proposal by the American mediator at the time, “Hoff”, of the line named after him, which we rejected.

There has been successive American mediators who worked on the file without reaching a version acceptable to Lebanon, until the mediator Amos Hochstein took over the task; negotiations resumed between August 11, 2021 and October 10, 2022 when an indirect agreement was reached, during which Lebanon preserved its borders declared by Decree 6433 of 2011, and all of its blocks, in addition to the entire Qana field, without prejudice to Lebanon’s share in it, according to the contract signed with the international operator, in addition to American and French guarantees of the immediate resumption of Lebanese offshore petroleum activities.

My dearly beloved,

Lebanon has the right to consider what was accomplished yesterday a historic achievement, for we were able to recover a disputed area of 860 square kilometers, and Lebanon did not concede any single kilometer to Israel. We also obtained the entire Qana field, without having to pay any remuneration, although the whole field is not located inside our waters. Likewise, our land boundaries were untouched, and Lebanon did not recognize the buoy line that Israel created after its withdrawal from our lands in 2000. Besides, no normalization with Israel took place. No direct talks or agreements were concluded with Israel. As for the remuneration it demanded for a part of Qana field located in the occupied waters, it will be paid by “Total”, and this will not affect the contract signed between Lebanon and “Total”.

The agreement has also provided for the resolution of any disputes in the future, or in the event of the identification of any other common oil deposit on both sides of the border, which would add reassurance and impart a stronger sense of stability on both sides of the border.

Dear Fellow Lebanese,

Despite the internal obstacles that emerged in the oil and gas file, and in the face of the external pressures that were exerted to prevent us from benefiting from our gas and oil wealth, Lebanon has become an oil-producing country. That which was a novel or a dream has become a reality today, owing to our firm stand, our solidarity and the adherence to our rights. This was enshrined in laws, decrees, surveys, awards, contracts and exploration that began. In the coming days, “Total” will have to start exploration works in the Qana field, as it promised, so that we can make up for the years that have passed without being able to extract oil and gas, at a time when Israel was pursuing its exploration and extraction operations, which resulted in an imbalance in the petroleum activities. However, we are able today, after having taken the lead again, owing to our persistence and efforts, and by defending what is rightfully ours and the right of the generations to come; our hope is that future generations will live better than we did. I also hope that a sovereign fund aimed at preserving oil proceeds, according to the proposed law submitted in this regard, will be established. Oil fields 8, 9 and 10 in the exclusive economic zone were threatened; however, thanks to the agreement, we were able to preserve and protect them, and we will fully develop them. Indeed, the exploration process will open doors to new oil reservoirs and provide opportunities for other companies to participate in exploration and extraction operations, which will restore the confidence in our country and foster hope that we could be saved from the economic cliff. The next step should be to hold talks with Syria to resolve the disputed area, which exceeds 900 square kilometers, through brotherly discussions. It is also necessary to review the demarcated borders with Cyprus and decide what should be done in the future. As I dedicate this achievement to you, dear Lebanese, I would like, on your behalf, to thank the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and especially the American mediator, Amos Hochstein and his team, as well as the American ambassador in Beirut and her assistants. I also thank the French state and its president, my friend Emmanuel Macron and his aides, along with the French ambassador in Beirut and her assistants, for following up on the negotiations process, especially with “Total”. I also thank the United Nations, which hosted part of the negotiations in Naqoura, and which will host the necessary conclusion of the negotiations. My thanks go also to the brotherly and friendly countries that stood by the Lebanese right and supported it. In this regard, I would like to extend my appreciation to the State of Qatar and its Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for the interest he showed in investing in Lebanon with a view to promoting its stability. My thanks are also extended to the Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Nabih Berri, to Prime Minister, Mr. Najib Mikati, to Deputy Speaker, Mr. Elias Bou Saab, who has led ardious and difficult negotiations in recent months along with members of the team, including military staff, experts and technicians. I also thank all other officials who successively dealt with this file in the Ministries of Energy, Water and Foreign Affairs, the head and members of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, the Army Command, especially the head and members of the negotiating team, the LAF Hydrographic Department, and all the experts and technicians who have been instrumental in the successful conclusion of thenegotiation process, owing to their experience and hard work. As for you, dear Lebanese ladies and gentlemen, I thank you twice, for you have contributed, through your steadfastness, dedication, and the struggle of your resistance, which proved to be an element of strength for Lebanon, to fortifying the Lebanese position in the negotiation and in the confrontation, thus accomplishing this achievement, for you and for future generations, for the advancement of your country, its progress, its prosperity and the comfort of its people. Long live Lebanon!.”

  • NNA