minister@ (Refiles to add full names of president, energy minister)
ABU DHABI, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The political crisis in Lebanon shouldn't delay the country's first oil and gas offshore licensing round, its energy minister said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned in a speech from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4 and has yet to return to the country, sparking a political crisis.
President Michel Aoun has said he will not accept Hariris resignation until Hariri returns to the country, and Lebanese authorities have said they consider the government to be still legitimate.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Abu Dhabi, energy minister Cesar Abi Khalil said: "The government is still operational and the constitution is still in place. We are operating business as usual."
Lebanon sits on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big subsea gas fields have been discovered since 2009, including the Leviathan and Tamar fields situated in Israeli waters near the disputed marine border with Lebanon.
Lebanon re-launched the tendering competition for exploration and production rights in January after a three-year delay due to political paralysis.
But only one consortium, made up of Frances Total, Italys ENI and Russias Novatek, submitted an offer in the process which closed on Oct. 12, with bids for two of the available five blocks.
Abi Khalil said companies will negotiate their technical offers on Nov. 27-28 and he will then submit an evaluation report to Lebanon's council of ministers for final approval. (Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)