Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, announced on Thursday his country’s acceptance of the US-brokered maritime border deal with Israel, saying talks had come to “a positive end”, Reuters reports.
Aoun said the deal represented a “historic achievement” in which Lebanon regained 860 square km (around 330 square miles) of disputed maritime territory, but insisted it did not pave the way to normalisation of relations with Israel.
“This indirect agreement responds to Lebanon’s demands and preserves our rights in full,” said Aoun, who was keen to secure the deal as the crowning achievement of his six-year term, which ends on 31 October.
Lebanon was also pushing for the agreement as a possible means to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown that has left more than 80 per cent of the population poor, and cost the local pound more than 95 per cent of its value.
“I hope the end of these negotiations will be a promising beginning that lays the foundation for the economic recovery that Lebanon needs,” Aoun said.
Minutes after Aoun spoke, US Energy Envoy, Amos Hochstein, who mediated the agreement, said he hoped TotalEnergies and Italian multinational energy company, ENI SpA, would begin preparing for gas exploration within weeks.The two had won a bidding round to explore in Lebanese maritime waters, alongside Russian firm Novatek, which pulled out last month.
The maritime deal will open the door to more exploration on both sides but does not resolve a long-standing disagreement over the land boundary between Israel and Lebanon.
Still, Aoun said it would grant “stability” on both sides of the border.
His announcement does not officially mean the deal has come into force. According to a draft text seen by Reuters, the understanding will take effect once Lebanon and Israel send letters to Washington, which will issue a notice announcing the deal is in place.
Israel and Lebanon are then to send the coordinates of the border to the United Nations to be officially recognised.
Aoun said the next step would be to hold talks with neighbouring Syria to resolve disputed borders with it, and then discuss maritime boundaries with Cyprus.