Renewed negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) remain deadlocked as Addis Ababa refused to enter into a legally-binding agreement over the controversial project, Egypt’s irrigation ministry said on Wednesday.
The days-long talks between the water ministers of the three countries that were brokered by Sudan “have made little progress" due to Ethiopia’s "intransigent positions" on both the technical and legal aspects of the deal, the ministry said in a statement.
Ethiopia rejected the conclusion of a binding agreement in accordance with international law between the three countries, insisting on drafting “guiding rules that [it] can unilaterally amend,” the ministry said.
Addis Ababa also refused to include in the agreement a legally-binding mechanism to settle disputes between the three nations, or effective measures to cope with drought, the Egyptian ministry added.
Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas suggested on Wednesday referring the contentious issues to the prime ministers of the three countries to reach political consensus that would allow talks to resume as soon as possible.
But Egypt said Ethiopia had opposed this proposition which the Egyptian statement described as "a last-ditch opportunity" to resolve the stalemate.
However, a statement by the Ethiopian irrigation ministry later on Wednesday said the meeting concluded with an agreement to continue negotiations after the Sudanese delegation consults with its prime minister. It added that "the full completion of the negotiations will require resolution of legal issues."
The three countries resumed talks on 9 June via video conference after more than three months of deadlock. Officials from the US, EU and South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, attended as observers.
Abbas, meanwhile, told reporters after the talks ended that the three countries agreed on “90 percent or 95 percent” of the technical issues but the differences over the legal aspects remained unresolved.
Nevertheless, his ministry said in a statement later that the legal disagreements reflect “major conceptual differences” between the three nations.
The Sudanese minister said his country and Egypt refused Ethiopia’s attempts to include points on the sharing of Nile water in the deal. “The deal should be on the filling and operation of the dam, not the sharing of water quotas between the three countries.
“A deal should be signed before the start of the filling,” Abbas stressed.
Ethiopia has repeatedly said it will start filling the reservoir of the mega dam in July regardless of whether an agreement is reached or not.
Earlier this month, Sudan asked the UN Security Council to encourage all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions, and Egypt also urged the bloc to call on Ethiopia to not act unilaterally by filling the dam.
In response, Addis Ababa told the UN body that it “does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam.”
After US-sponsored meetings in Washington stumbled in February, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said the “final testing and filling [of the dam] should not take place without an agreement.”
The US demand was reiterated on Wednesday when the US National Security Council (NSC) said that “it is time” to reach a deal over the GERD before Ethiopia starts filling the reservoir.
In a post on its official Twitter account, the NSC said "257 million people in East Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal."
The US, represented by the Treasury Department, and the World Bank stepped in last year to host tripartite negotiations, which began in November and lasted till February after years-long negotiations between the three countries hit a dead end. Ethiopia, however, skipped the last round of Washington talks.
Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Egypt may resort to the United Nations Security Council to prevent Ethiopia from taking any “unilateral” action on the hydropower project if Addis Ababa remains "intransigent."
Egypt stressed that it has been seeking a “fair and balanced” agreement for the three nations through nearly a decade of talks but was met by “stringent” approach from Ethiopia.
Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the River Nile for its freshwater, fears the dam will diminish its water supply, which is already below scarcity level. Some 85 percent of the Nile water that reaches Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands.
Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile, which would generate 6,000 megawatt when completed, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.