Egypt has taken several diplomatic initiatives in the last two weeks to explain to the world the present situation concerning negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia failed to reach a final agreement on GERD’s initial filling and operating process after Addis Ababa walked out of the last round of talks in Washington that was supposed to see the signing of an accord.
“Resolving the dam issue is a top priority for Egyptian diplomacy at present,” a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“Egyptian officials are visiting several places in the world to explain how Egypt is sticking with the negotiations until the last minute and the repercussions of the failure of the negotiations on the country,” the diplomat said.
This week Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi discussed the developments of the dam with Deputy Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in Cairo.
Their meeting tackled the outcome of the negotiations that took place in several rounds in Washington, and the agreement initialed by Egypt last month.
Dagalo was quoted by the media during his two-day visit as saying that Khartoum will be a mediator between Egypt and Ethiopia in the hope of bridging the differences and reaching an agreement.
No other details were disclosed.
On Tuesday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri embarked on an African tour that took him to Burundi, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Niger to deliver a message from President Al-Sisi regarding the developments on the dam.
Shoukri’s tour came a few days after his two-legged European tour that included Belgium and France.
In France, Shoukri met the French foreign minister and affirmed the need for efforts by France and other EU countries towards urging Ethiopia to sign the final agreement on the dam in order to preserve security and stability in the Horn of Africa.
In his visit to Brussels, Shoukri met the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission Josep Borrell.
Shoukri handed Borrell two messages from President Al-Sisi to both the President of the European Council Charles Michel, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, regarding the latest developments in the dam negotiations.
Shoukri also called on the European Union to urge Ethiopia to sign the agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD in order to preserve security and stability in the Horn of Africa.
Shortly before his European tour, Shoukri visited a number of Arab countries to update them the current situation. The visit included stops in Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.
Early this month, a meeting of the Arab League concluded by issuing a resolution expressing support for Cairo in negotiations with Addis Ababa on the dam.
The Arab League rejected “any form of infringement on Egypt’s historical rights to the waters of the River Nile”, adding that “Egyptian water security is an integral part of Arab national security.”
The tripartite negotiations that started in November last year in Washington came to a halt when Addis Ababa refused to attend the last round of talks that would have seen the signing of the final agreement after intensive negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the last four months.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia has tried to clarify to the world its stand in the tripartite negotiations on the dam.
In a televised interview with Al-Jazeera TV, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew claimed the Renaissance Dam would not deny water from Egypt, but would be a reservoir guaranteeing everyone’s interest, which is why, in his view, Egypt should have contributed to the building costs.
Asked about the fate of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) and the Washington talks, Andargachew explained that the DoP was a general framework for cooperation that gave Ethiopia the right to build the dam without causing harm to other countries.
Saying Egypt was the party that called for international mediation from the US, the World Bank and other parties, “it now has no option but dialogue in the framework of the DoP and tripartite negotiations,” Andargachew said. “We also stick to it as our main option for cooperation.
“We could have filled the dam in three years. Nevertheless, at Egypt’s request, we agreed to fill it in seven years although that will delay generating electricity,” he added.
In another interview with AP this week, Andargachew said that Ethiopia is now drafting its own proposal on how to resolve the standoff which will be presented to Egypt and Sudan soon.
“We won’t subscribe to an agreement just because the US and the World Bank came forward with it. We need to take time and sort out sticking points,” he said.
“I fail to understand how Addis Ababa is in need of more time,” commented the diplomat. “We have been in the negotiating process for some 10 years. We reached an agreement in Washington that the Ethiopian technical team did not initially object to. Nevertheless, it failed to show up to sign it,” he said.
This week, Addis Ababa sent high-level delegations across Europe and Africa to explain its position on the dam negotiations.
A high-level delegation led by former Ethiopian president Mulatu Teshome delivered a message from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to the leadership of the EU Council and Commission as well as to French President Emmanuel Macron.
Mulatu explained, during his meeting with the EU and French officials, that Ethiopia is committed to finding a win-win solution to the ongoing negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan with regards to the first filling and annual operation of the dam.
He also noted that Ethiopia has never backed down on the ongoing negotiations but rather requested from all parties to the negotiations more time to conclude its national consultation on the status of the negotiations.
With the same target as a priority, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde started a tour in Africa that took her to Kenya and Uganda.
During her visit, Zewde met the presidents of both states and briefed them on the latest developments in the negotiations with Sudan and Egypt.
Both presidents stressed the importance of a fair and reasonable use of natural resources.
Another Ethiopian delegation led by Deputy Chief of Staff General Berhanu Gula headed to Khartoum to meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
A military option has not been ruled out. On Monday, Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Adam Mohamed, said that the army was ready to resist any attack on the Renaissance Dam, and carry out counterattacks against aggressors.
The general’s statement came during a visit with a number of other senior officers to the site of the dam.
The US and the World Bank were brought in to the dam talks after President Al-Sisi last year called on the international community to help find a solution to the long-running dispute.
The US set mid-January as the deadline for reaching an agreement.
Several rounds of talks were held in the presence of the US Treasury Department and the World Bank as observers.
The deadline was later extended to the end of February, but in the last round of talks Addis Ababa failed to attend.
More than 70 per cent of the dam is complete and filling the reservoir is expected to start in July.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly