The United States said it would remain engaged in talks with Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan until a final agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is signed after Washington has failed to seal signatures from the three countries this week, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said.
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were expected to sign a final deal on the disputed dam this week, however Addis Ababa said it would not take part in what was due to be the final round of talks to resolve the years-long crisis.
According to a statement by the US Treasury, Mnuchin participated in separate bilateral meetings with the foreign affairs and water resources ministers of Egypt and Sudan.
The ministers provided their comments on the agreement, which the US described as one that “addresses all issues in a balanced and equitable manner, taking into account the interests of the three countries.”
Last year, the US Treasury intervened to facilitate talks between Egypt and Sudan as talks on the dam ended in deadlock.
The three countries agreed to entrust the US with preparing an agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD based on provisions proposed by the legal and technical teams of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and with the technical input of the World Bank.
Mnuchin said he is looking forward to Ethiopia finalising its national consultations “as soon as possible to provide for the signing of the agreement at the earliest possible time,” after Egypt initialed the agreement as a sign of commitment.
“Consistent with the principles set out in the DOP, and in particular the principles of not causing significant harm to downstream countries, final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement,” Mnuchin stressed.
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.
Cairo fears the dam will diminish its water supply from the Nile, on which it relies for the vast majority of its fresh water.
The statement also noted the concern of downstream countries Egypt and Sudan due to unfinished work on the safe operation of the GERD, and the need to implement all necessary safety measures in accordance with international standards before filling begins.
Egypt said it looks forward to Ethiopia and Sudan taking the lead of approving the agreement and signing it “as soon as possible”, describing the deal as one that is “fair, balanced, and achieves the three countries' interests.”
Cairo reaffirmed its appreciation to the role carried out by the US and its keenness on a final deal, regreting Ethiopia’s “unjustified absence” from the meeting at a critical stage.
Sudan reaffirmed its commitment to the negotiation process to reach a comprehensive agreement to fill and operate GERD, reserving the common interests of the three countries.
It stressed the necessity of reaching a comprehensive agreement that includes a safe functioning by the dam before the beginning of the first filling.
Ethiopia said it noted with "disappointment" the US statement, stressing that it “will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation and the causing of no significant harm as provided for under the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles (DoP)."
Addis Ababa added that it doesn’t accept the "characterisation" that negotiations on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD are completed.
“The 'text' reportedly initialed by the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington DC is not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries,” it said.
However, Ethiopia affirmed its committed to continue its engagement with Egypt and Sudan to address the outstanding issues and finalize the Guidelines and Rules on the first filling and annual operation of the GERD.
It’s unclear whether further talks would be scheduled between the three countries.