Egypt has agreed with Ethiopia and Sudan to prioritise reaching a binding deal on the filling and operating of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a statement from the Egyptian presidency read on Tuesday following an African mini-summit on the issue.
“It was agreed to continue the negotiations in the current time to reach a binding legal agreement on the rules of filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, while work will continue later to reach a comprehensive agreement on the types of joint cooperation between the three countries concerning the use of the Nile,” the Egyptian statement read.
Over years of negotiations, Ethiopia has always backtracked on signing a binding deal, including during the talks brokered by Washington that faltered in February, and the round of talks in June that led to Egypt's escalating the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum said that they have agreed to resume technical talks concerning some outstanding issued following the Tuesday summit between the three countries, but without giving more details about the date.
The mini-summit was hosted by South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current head of the African Union, and saw the participation of five other African heads of state as observers.
The Egyptian statement also highlighted President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s appreciation for the efforts of Ramaphosa, and stressed "the continued sincere desire of Egypt to achieve progress on the contentious issues, which are essential in any fair and balanced agreement reached on the Renaissance Dam."
The statement said that doing so requires the political will to agree on the outstanding issues to reach a desired agreement and achieve the common interest between the three countries.
In a separate statement, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also said that the technical talks on the mega-dam would be resumed.
First-year filling target achieved
In a statement on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that its first-year target for filling the GERD has been reached, and that Egypt and Sudan have agreed to further technical discussions on outstanding issues as part of an African-led process.
The statement said that the current rainfall and runoff situation in the region have made it "conducive" to fill the dam, and that “it has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that GERD first year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping.”
“I appreciate my brothers [Hamdok and El-Sisi] for common understanding reached on continuing technical discussion on filling,” Abiy tweeted on his official account on Tuesday.
Tensions had escalated last week after reports that Ethiopia had begun filling the dam’s reservoir, based on an official’s claim that was later retracted.
Ethiopian state TV had quoted the country’s Water Minister Seleshi Bekele as saying that the country had started to fill the GERD’s reservoir. Hours later, however, the minister denied that the filling process had started.
Satellite images of the Ethiopian dam showed its swelling reservoir, while Sudan said it had recorded a decline in the water level of the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia.
Egypt has voiced its concern over Ethiopia's failure to address rules regulating the filling and operation of the GERD during drought and dry years.
Cairo is also concerned about future projects on the Blue Nile, a main tributary of the Nile, and demands binding dispute settlement mechanisms, which Addis Ababa has refused to include in a deal.
Despite the repeated concerns of both Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopian officials, including Abiy, had stated that the GERD filling operation would start with or without an agreement.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce the river’s flow, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought or dry years. Ethiopia, on the other hand, says the project is key to its development
Sudanese proposal on future projects
Hamdok also revealed on Tuesday that Sudan had reasserted its rejection of any unilateral actions concerning the filing of the dam.
In addition, in press statements reported by the Sudanese news agency SUNA, Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas announced that the experts appointed by the African Union in the last round of the talks had supported Sudan’s suggestion concerning future projects on the Blue Nile.
According to Abbas, Ethiopia's argument is that a binding agreement on the dam would restrict any future development on the Blue Nile, but the Sudanese suggestion gives Ethiopia the right for future development projects, whether reservoirs or other projects, on the condition that those projects are in compliance with international water law and the downstream countries are notified.
The Sudanese irrigation minister said that if the suggestion was approved, it would give Ethiopia the right to amend some numbers concerning the operations of the dam, and would disengage the two demands for first filling and operation and the right to future development projects.
Abbas added that Ethiopia had promised to consider the Sudanese proposal and that solving the main issue would facilitate reaching a compromise on the other issues.