Lebanon has in the past month or so been excluded from U.S.-led developments in the oil and gas sector in the Eastern Mediterranean that focus on Israel, Greece and Cyprus, though Beirut took steps to establish separate agreements with the latter two nations.
U.S. Senators in April introduced legislation into the Senate that would secure full U.S. support for a trilateral energy and defense partnership with Israel, Greece and Cyprus, with the effect of solidifying an eastern mediterranean alliance that excludes Lebanon.
The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a ranking member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
It would among other things establish a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the U.S.and the three nations.
The bill was submitted just a few weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with representatives of Israel, Greece and Cyprus to discuss oil and gas cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean during a visit to Israel in March.
Participants “welcomed the recent natural gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean and its potential to contribute to energy security and diversification,” according to a joint declaration made after the summit.
It is noteworthy that U.S.-based companies did not bid for offshore oil and gas exploration in Lebanon’s first licensing round, though they had pre-qualified.
In Beirut, Lebanese officials meanwhile met with high-ranking Greece and Cypriot officials, partially in a bid to establish agreements on the energy sector.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said following a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil that both parties had agreed to initiate discussions “on a bilateral framework agreement concerning the development of hydrocarbon resources,” which lie across the exclusive economic zones of both nations.
This agreement would “hopefully” be signed by September, the Energy Ministry said, with an initial report issued in June.
The Cypriot energy minister said the two countries also agreed to search for markets for the gas that could potentially be extracted from those areas, and prepare an agreement for cross-border infrastructure projects for the transport and export of hydrocarbons.
After a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, President Michel Aoun said Lebanon would continue to refuse to join any forum or cooperation mechanism that includes Israel, including the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, to which seven nations in the region are party.
Discussions are ongoing between Israel, Greece and Cyprus over construction of the East Med pipeline, first brought up in earnest in 2012. The pipeline would span from Israel, through Cyprus, and on to Greece, arcing around Lebanon and transporting gas from the eastern mediterranean to Europe.
However, the high expected cost of the pipeline means that additional oil and gas discoveries by the countries involved may be required in order to make the project financially feasible. At the same time, outstanding territorial disputes involving some nations that would be part of the project will further complicate matters.
Photo Source: Greek News Online