Egypt and Ethiopia’s leaders have agreed to restart the work of a committee aimed at brokering an agreement on the operating terms of a giant hydropower dam, an Egyptian presidency spokesman said.
The apparent breakthrough on Thursday was announced after a meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Egypt relies on the Nile for 90% of its fresh water, and it wants the GERD’s reservoir to release a higher volume of water than Ethiopia is willing to guarantee, among other disagreements.
التقى السيد الرئيس عبد الفتاح السيسي صباح اليوم بمدينة سوتشي مع رئيس الوزراء الإثيوبي آبي أحمد.وصرح السفير بسام راضي،…Posted by المتحدث الرسمي لرئاسة الجمهورية-Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency on Thursday, October 24, 2019
“Talks have reached a deadlock as a result of the Ethiopian side’s inflexibility,” the Egyptian ministry of water resources and irrigation said in a statement.
“Egypt has called for involving an international party in the Renaissance Dam negotiations to mediate between the three countries and help…reaching a fair and balanced agreement,” it said after talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between the three countries’ water resources ministers.
Egypt did not say who should mediate, but the presidency called on the United States to play “an active role in this regard”.
On Friday, the White House said in a statement that the United States “supports… ongoing negotiations to reach a cooperative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on filling and operating” the dam.
Ethiopia’s minister at the talks, Seleshi Bekele, rejected the Egyptian request for a mediator.
It came after a long-running diplomatic spat between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile escalated in recent days, with bellicose rhetoric prompting a mediation offer from the United States.
The Egyptian foreign ministry on Wednesday said Cairo had accepted Washington’s overture for a meeting of foreign ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the third nation affected by GERD, on the $5bn infrastructure project. It did not state a date for the talks, or if the other nations had agreed to attend.
But in his statement on Thursday, el-Sisi’s spokesman made no mention of a mediator but said the technical committee would resume its work “in a more open and positive manner, in order to reach a final vision on the rules for filling and operating the dam”.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile confirmed el-Sisi and Abiy had held “discussions” over the project in a post on Twitter.
The work of the technical committee had failed to produce an agreement despite years of meetings between officials from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.
Earlier this month, Egypt said it had exhausted efforts to reach a pact on conditions for operating the dam, the largest in Africa, and filling the reservoir behind it.
Cairo is concerned the project, located near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan and approximately 70 percent complete, will restrict its already scarce share of water from the Nile.
Egypt wants Ethiopia to agree to release a minimum of 40bn cubic metres of water from the dam annually. It is also calling for the accompanying reservoir to be filled over a longer period than the four or so years envisaged by Addis Ababa, in order to ensure water supplies remain sufficient in the event of droughts.