In an interview with state daily Al-Ahram published late Thursday evening, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said that, while Egypt had a "keen interest" in maintaining friendly relations with African states – especially Sudan and Ethiopia – it was also keen not to risk losing a "single drop of Nile water."
The president’s statements came following last week's move by the Ethiopian government to divert the waters of the Blue Nile in advance of building its planned Renaissance Dam, the prospect of which has worried Egyptian officials and politicians regarding the dam’s possible effect on Egypt’s share of Nile water.
"The operational strategy is to communicate with Ethiopia, its government and its people, to prevent any harm from befalling Egypt's share of Nile water or that of our Sudanese brothers," Morsi stated in the interview.
When the president was asked if current negotiations only aimed to reduce possible harm to Egypt, Morsi asserted ("angrily," according to Al-Ahram) that Egypt’s position on the subject emanated from the desire to ensure that Egypt’s allotment of Nile water wasn’t affected and that no harm whatsoever occurs.
Morsi hinted at the complicated nature of the issue, saying that "a lot of details are involved" and that information regarding the dam from the Ethiopian government remained "insufficient."
A trilateral technical committee – consisting of experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia – announced this week that its long-awaited report was "inconclusive" as to the planned dam's effects on Egypt and Sudan.
The Ethiopian government nevertheless issued a statement saying the dam would not impact Egypt’s traditional share of Nile water, which – according to a colonial-era agreement and another 1959 treaty – currently stands at an annual 55 million cubic metres.
The Ethiopians are "Egypt’s friends," who should look after its interests, said Morsi, stressing that Egypt in turn “will not allow itself to harm a friend, and therefore we don’t speak of thwarting the development of a friendly state."
He concluded with the assertion: "The Nile is the lifeline and the axis of development for coming generations."
On Thursday, an Egyptian presidential aide told state news agency MENA that Egypt was planning to officially demand a halt to the Ethiopian dam project.
However, an Ethiopian government spokesman told AFP Thursday that construction of the dam would go on, adding that Ethiopia had invited Morsi for talks, which would not include the option of halting the project.
Downstream Egypt enjoys the lion’s share of Nile water compared to upstream countries. Nile water treaties signed by Egypt allow it to veto any upstream projects planned by Nile Basin states.
Egypt’s traditional allotment of Nile water was challenged in 2010 when a new water-sharing agreement was signed between six upstream states, including Ethiopia.