05 July 2016,

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil held talks in Moscow prior to the Ain al-Tineh agreement between Speaker Nabih Berri and Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil regarding the issue of offshore oil and gas exploration, a media report said on Tuesday.

“The Berri-Bassil agreement was preceded by an understanding between Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Russian officials during the minister’s recent visit to Moscow,” al-Akhbar newspaper reported.

Khalil is a close aide to Berri and a member of his AMAL Movement.

“The agreement with the Russians involved Moscow’s commitment to extract oil and gas from the three southern blocks of Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which neighbors Israel’s oil and gas blocks,” al-Akhbar said.

“Moscow also committed itself to addressing any crises that might be stirred by the (Israeli) enemy,” the daily added.

According to the newspaper, the Berri-Bassil agreement was preceded by reports suggesting that the Lebanese disputes over oil and gas exploration were linked to “a dispute over the nationalities of the companies that would be tasked with offshore excavation.”

Turning to Washington’s alleged role in the latest drive, al-Akhbar said “the US was interested in securing deals for its companies to excavate for oil and gas in the offshore blocks off Lebanon’s northern coast,” noting that the Americans had “pressed the political forces to reactivate the file and mediated to end the dispute over the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.”

“This practically means that the domestic agreement on oil and gas exploration was the result of a prior Russian-American deal on splitting shares,” the daily added.

The Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper had reported Sunday that the executive decrees for offshore oil and gas exploration would be issued within two weeks.

The disagreement between AMAL and the FPM has hindered agreements on energy extraction for years.

Lebanon has been slow to exploit its maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all much more advanced in drilling for oil and gas.

In March 2010, the US Geological Survey estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 34.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes the territorial waters of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Cyprus.

In August 2014, the government postponed for the fifth time the first round of licensing for gas exploration over a political dispute.

The disagreements were over the designation of blocks open for bidding and the terms of a draft exploration agreement.

Lebanese officials have continuously warned that Israel’s exploration of new offshore gas fields near Lebanese territorial waters means Israel is siphoning some of Lebanon’s crude oil.