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Report: Oil Jurisdictions the Basis for Aoun-Berri Row

Jan 03

Lebanon's oil and gas sector file reportedly appears to be the basis for the emerging differences between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih which surfaced shortly before the year's end under the controversial officers seniority decree, the Kuwaiti Al-Seyassah daily reported on Tuesday.

The daily claimed that the crisis between the two men goes far beyond the issue of the officers' decree, “the oil file with all its ramifications is the basis of the differences between Aoun and Berri,” it said.

“A strong clash has been lingering on between the two men for years now because of the sovereign fund to be established, and the party who will oversee the oil revenues in the next stage,” according to the daily.

It added that the conflict also “revolves around the powers and influence between the Baabda Palace (residence of the presidency) and Ain el-Tineh (the speaker's residence), specifically in relation to the role of the Ministry of Finance, which Berri does not want to give up.”

The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and Prime Minister Saad Hariri signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri (Amal Movement leader) and Amal Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature.

As for the oil and gas file, which the daily said was the ground for the row, a major decision was taken by the Lebanese Cabinet in December 2017 approving licenses for three international companies to carry out exploratory drilling off the Lebanese coast.

The licenses will allow Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek that bid for two of Lebanon's 10 offshore blocks to determine whether oil and gas exist in the area.

Lebanon’s politicians are working on developing a national sovereignty fund to invest resource revenues.

It is not certain whether companies will find reserves in Lebanese waters. But the bid, accepted by the Lebanese government by a consortium of international oil and gas giants to explore two sectors in the eastern Mediterranean reflected the potential for a windfall.

naharnet