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We must defend oil rights, Berri tells Kaag.

Summary: Lebanon must maintain any oil resources and not relinquish its rights, Speaker Nabih Berri told United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag Friday as the pair met to discuss recent developments and international assistance to demark Lebanon's maritime border.

BEIRUT: Lebanon must maintain any oil resources and not relinquish its rights, Speaker Nabih Berri told United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag Friday as the pair met to discuss recent developments and international assistance to demark Lebanon's maritime border. The meeting at his Ain al-Tineh residence came days after the speaker claimed that the United Nations would assist in demarking Lebanon's disputed southern maritime border with Israel.

According to a statement issued by the speaker's media office, Berri presented maps of the contested maritime areas to Kaag and stressed Lebanon's desire to "hold onto all of its oil resources and the exclusive economic zone" and the refusal to "waive [any of] its rights."

The statement issued by Berri's office said that Kaag "stressed the U.N.'s readiness to take care of this process" and talked about her "latest trip to the United Nations and what she has done with regards to [this issue]."

However, shortly after the speaker's statement, the U.N. special coordinator's office released its own which appeared to cast doubt on Berri's comments. "The United Nations Secretariat does not pronounce itself on the status of territories, on the delimitation of boundaries, or on issues related to entitlement to natural resources, unless it is mandated to do so by a competent United Nations organ or is otherwise requested by all the parties concerned," the document read. "The special coordinator reaffirmed that the United Nations Secretariat stands ready to work with all the parties concerned to facilitate efforts toward a resolution of the issue."

During Berri's weekly meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, he initiallyannounced that the U.N. was "willing" to help Lebanon demarcate its border. The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon did not confirm Berri's statement at the time and declined to comment on the issue.

Ali Hamdan, an adviser to Berri, played down the issue and rejected the idea of a discrepancy between the stances of Berri and the U.N.

"It is the same statement, ours and theirs. Our statement is saying that [Kaag] confirmed that they are ready to supervise any efforts concerning the delimitation [of maritime borders]," Hamdan told The Daily Star Friday. "This [just] confirms our intentions."

Lebanon has been vocal in demanding the U.N.'s assistance in delimitating the disputed border with Israel, which extends over 870 square kilometers, and argues that the maritime map it submitted to the U.N. is in line with a set of armistice agreements signed in 1949 following the Arab-Israeli War.

Several obstacles, however, still lie ahead of Lebanon settling the matter, including the issue of Israel's acceptance of the U.N. as a mediator.

Israel expressed opposition to the idea in the past but Hamdan said steps forward were being made before the U.S. presidential elections.

"Earlier, when the Americans were acting as a facilitator -- before the elections -- the talks were mature enough," Hamdan said. The Trump administration has not yet appointed a new envoy to Lebanon who will be tasked with following up the matter and resuming the negotiations.

When asked about concerns that the newly appointed envoy will represent an administration less favorable to Lebanon, Hamdan replied, "Let's see. What we have until now are positive signs, so let's wait and see." He added that his office is hopeful negotiations will resume from where they were left.

Lebanese officials repeatedly issued warnings that Israel's exploration of new offshore gas fields near Lebanese territorial waters indicated the Jewish state was attempting to siphon off some of Lebanon's oil and gas reserves.

Lebanon currently has no proven reserves and there is also no indication that there are any oil or gas fields that extend across the disputed border.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. had offered to mediate between the two sides through its Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs leading the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) Amos Hochstein. The U.S. State Department has not yet appointed a new special envoy but Hamdan said it was expected to do so in the coming weeks.

Rumors circulated that Justice Minister Salim Jreissati had raised the issue of the maritime borders with UNIFIL force commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary during a visit Friday to the UNIFIL headquarters and the U.N. mission's area of operations in south Lebanon.

However, a UNIFIL spokesperson denied that the issue was discussed and said the settlement of such an issue does not fall under UNIFIL's mandate.

A maritime border was agreed between Cyprus and Lebanon in 2007 but Lebanon's Parliament never ratified the deal. Cyprus agreed its maritime borders with Israel in 2010 using the same southern point referenced in the deal with Lebanon.

However, Lebanon had in the meantime established a southernmost point that does not match that of the Cyprus-Israel maritime agreement, which is now contested.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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