BEIRUT — French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun on Saturday for his "approval of the final version of the agreement on the delineation of the southern maritime border with Israel," after intense negotiations between the two countries under the auspices of Washington, according to a statement from Baabda Palace.
Macron also stressed the need for Lebanon to elect a new president within the constitutional deadline, as President Aoun's term ends on Oct. 31.
President Aoun announced in the statement that he received a phone call from President Macron who "praised [his] wise management of the file of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel." He also assured Aoun that "France stands by Lebanon and will respect its commitment to gas and oil drilling."
'Good news for Lebanon and the whole region'
"The road was difficult and arduous, but thanks to the insistence of President Aoun, this agreement has been reached," Macron said during the phone call, according to remarks reported by the Lebanese presidency. "We have contributed in a modest way to this agreement," Emmanuel Macron added, adding the deal signifies "good news for Lebanon and the whole region."
Macron also assured Aoun that the Lebanese president can count on the French company TotalEnergies to respect its commitments. "I will see to it," Macron said.
According to a statement issued by the Élysée Palace, Macron also spoke with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, on the phone.
"This is undeniably an important step towards more peace for Israel, Lebanon and all countries and people of the region," Macron said, adding that the agreement "will contribute to the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel and Lebanon."
According to Macron, the maritime border agreement, which promotes the exploration and exploitation of gas resources off the coast of Lebanon and Israel, "will contribute to the prosperity of both countries."
He further stated that "it is now up to all actors to implement this historic agreement," and assured France "will assume its full role, confidently, with its partners."
For his part, Aoun said his country is "grateful to France, which always stands by its side," praising the "personal efforts of President Macron for this achievement, especially with the company Total, despite the difficult situation the world is going through at the moment."
Aoun announced Lebanon's approval of the agreement's final version on Thursday, deeming it a "historic achievement" and adding that Lebanon "has become an oil state." However, experts predict that while the agreement is presented as the solution to Lebanon's economic and financial problems, many steps must be taken before an oil discovery is made.
Aoun also thanked US President Joe Biden, Macron, US mediator Amos Hochstein and "all the brotherly countries that helped Lebanon obtain its rights, including Qatar."
A source at Élysée Palace told L'Orient-Le Jour that "the active intervention of Emmanuel Macron, who has been following the file in its slightest developments for some time, helped unblock the process at the last minute."
Aoun's acceptance of the maritime border agreement on Thursday came two days after Israel announced that it had reached a "historic" deal with Lebanon, a step that will remove key obstacles to the exploitation of gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.
Under the agreement, the Karish offshore field will fall under Israeli control while the Qana reserves, located further northeast, will be granted to Lebanon. However, since the Qana field is intersected by the future demarcation line, Israel will receive a share of future revenues from Qana gas production.
According to Lebanese Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab, an agreement has been reached between the French giant TotalEnergies, which is expected to explore the Qana field, and the Israelis under which the latter could "receive compensation" from the energy giant and not from Lebanon.
The presidential election
On the political front, Macron called for the respect of constitutional deadlines.
"The election of a new president is a sovereign act and a constitutional priority that must be respected," he said.
On Thursday, Lebanese deputies failed for a second time to elect a president due to the lack of a quorum, aggravating fears of a presidential vacancy.
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said during a visit to Beirut that "if a president is not elected before Oct. 31, Lebanon could find itself in a vacuum that would weaken its position." She added that the election of a new head of state before the constitutional deadline "is still possible."
Aoun invited his French counterpart to visit Lebanon. According to Saturday's statement from the presidential palace, Macron said he "misses" Lebanon and "will come for a visit." However, no date for such a trip was communicated. The last visit of Emmanuel Macron to Lebanon was in Sept. 2020, following the deadly Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion that same year.