BEIRUT — US envoy Amos Hochstein on Wednesday said that he hopes a World Bank-financed deal for Lebanon to receive natural gas from Egypt can be arranged “in a matter of weeks,” adding that he is also optimistic about maritime border demarcation talks between Lebanon and Israeli authorities.
Here’s what we know:
• In an interview Wednesday with Lebanese broadcaster LBCI, Hochstein said “we’re making good progress on getting towards a World Bank arrangement and a facility to finance this purchase of [Egyptian] gas.”
• “I hope that in a matter of weeks, we can have that done,” the US official — who serves as the State Department’s senior advisor on energy security — added, according to a transcript of the interview released by the US Embassy in Lebanon.
• We have a lot of work to do on the mechanics of the deal of financing from the World Bank, the contracts, the approval from the United States, and so on,” he explained. The US first backed a proposal for the transit of Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon in August 2021, as the country’s state electric grid fell apart and Hezbollah announced it would secure shipments of Iranian diesel for back-up generators.
• Hochstein touched on the issue of Caesar Act sanctions against Syria, which Republican opponents of the Biden administration in Washington D.C. have cited in their rejection of the transit of Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon.
• “We do not believe in normalizing Assad,” he said in reference to Bashar al-Assad and the regime in Syria, adding that the US-backed deal for transiting fuel to Lebanon “is in no way shape or form a waiving of those sanctions [on Syria] or undermining them.”
• He noted that Syria would “keep some of the [Egyptian] gas [bound for Lebanon] – a small percentage of the gas in Syria, for electricity for Syrian people, in exchange – as a payment for the tariff, for the gas to go through Syria,” but emphasized no cash payments would be made to Damascus.
• Hochstein also addressed the potential deal for Jordanian electricity to be supplied to Lebanon, saying that the US is focused first on the issue of Egyptian gas, “and then once we can see that that is up and running and working, we can look at how else we can expand electricity production.”
• The envoy added that Washington does not want “to see Lebanon dependent on Syria for energy. It is not going to be.”
• He also spoke about his attempts to mediate indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime border, going into less specifics, saying he was “optimistic.”
• “I am confident that there will be a unified position in Lebanon, that there’ll be a unified position in Israel, and that we’ll be able to move forward,” Hochstein told LBCI.
• The diplomat landed in Beirut Tuesday to help push forward the indirect talks between Beirut and Tel Aviv on the maritime border between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, which have been on hiatus since May 2021.
• Hochstein met Wednesday with Lebanese army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun, Premier Najib Mikati, President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Aoun told Hochstein in their sit-down at the Baabda Presidential Palace that Lebanon would study his proposals regarding the talks.
Note: Language in this post was updated due to a matter of company policy.