The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed on Wednesday to reach a deal over the filling and operation of a giant hydropower dam on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile by 15 January, the US Treasury has said.
Following talks in Washington mediated by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass to iron out differences over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the officials said the water ministers of the three countries would hold four technical meetings in an effort to resolve contentious issues.
The ministers "agreed to work toward completion of an agreement by January 15, 2020," a joint statement released by the Treasury said.
The World Bank and the Treasury would “support and attend the meetings as observers” and the ministers will attend further meetings in the US capital on 9 December and 13 January to assess progress in their talks, the statement added.
Cairo fears the massive $4 billion upstream project on Ethiopia's section of the river would drastically cut its water supply. Ethiopia says the dam, which is about 70 percent complete, is central to its economic development and its plan to be a regional power hub.
“The ministers reaffirmed their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling that commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles,” the statement said.
If the countries cannot reach a deal by January 15, they will refer the matter to their heads of state or government or seek further external mediation, under the terms of a 2015 cooperation deal signed between the three countries in Khartoum.
“If an agreement is not reached by January 15, 2020, the foreign ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles will be invoked,” the statement said.
"The foreign ministers reaffirmed the significance of the Nile to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the importance of transboundary cooperation, and their shared interest in concluding an agreement”.
Hours earlier, US President Donald Trump said talks he held with the officials of the three countries “went well.”
Trump stepped in to help resolve the feud following a call by Egypt for a mediator after the latest round of talks between the three countries collapsed last month.
Sudan has less at stake in the conflict. It looks to benefit from the power generated by the dam, which will also help reduce silt and sedimentation in the downstream country.