Ethiopia said on Saturday it has agreed with Egypt and Sudan on reaching a "final agreement on a few pending matters" over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the next two weeks, hours after Cairo and Khartoum said Addis Ababa will not fill the dam next month without an agreement.
“Ethiopia is scheduled to begin filling the GERD within the next two weeks, during which time the remaining construction work will continue. It is in this period that the three countries have agreed to reach a final agreement on a few pending matters,” a press release by the Ethiopian prime minister’s office read.
This is the first comment by Ethiopia on the delay of its anticipated filling of the dam in July after Egypt and Sudan announced late Friday that Addis Ababa will delay the filling of GERD, signalling a breakthrough in stalled talks over the dam.
The latest round of talks, brokered by Sudan, over the giant $4.8 billion hydropower project, collapsed last week after Ethiopia refused to enter into a binding agreement on how the dam should be operated and insisted it will begin filling the dam in July with or without agreement with the two downstream countries.
The growing conflict has led to a diplomatic war of words between Cairo and Addis Ababa in the past months that saw the two countries sending memos and letters to the UN Security Council over GERD developments.
The announcement of the upcoming talks came after an emergency African Union online summit of leaders of the three countries chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The Egyptian presidency said the three countries agreed to form a committee of legal and technical experts to draft a final binding deal, and to “refrain from taking any unilateral measures, including the filling of the dam, before the agreement is reached.”
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdouk said in a statement that the three leaders have agreed to “postpone the filling of the reservoir until an agreement is signed.”
The Ethiopian statement said the leaders "underscored that the Nile and GERD are African issues that must be given African solutions" during the meeting.
They have also agreed to "notify the United Nations Security Council that the African Union is seized of the matter," asked the AU and its members to provide technical support for the new negotiations, and urged the three countries to end unnecessary media escalation.
Egypt last week called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to restart talks on the mega-project and warned that filling the dam without a deal will “threaten international peace and security.”
Sudan joined Egypt in expressing concerns to the UN’s most powerful body, telling the Security Council in a letter on Wednesday that the unilateral filling of the dam, located around 15 km from the Sudanese border, could “cause substantial risks” to Khartoum and endanger the lives of millions of people living downstream.
Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.
Egypt receives an annual release of 55.5 billion cubic metres from its High Aswan Dam, while it requires over 80 billion cubic metres to meet its needs. The country bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.
Cairo fears the dam will diminish its water supply from the Nile, on which it relies for much of its fresh water.