Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan release differing statements on fresh round of GERD talks

Zeinab El-Gundy , Friday 12 Jun 2020

The three countries all released statements about this week’s digital negotiations on the mega-dam

A file photo of Grand Ethiopian Renassiance Dam in September 2019 in Ethiopia (Photo:Reuters)

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan released statements about the fresh round of talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Thursday, with Ethiopia saying there had been an agreement to compare technical documents and to focus on the outstanding points of differences, while Cairo expressed concerns Addis Ababa was backtracking on previous negotiations.

“Thursday’s meeting resulted in the adoption of the terms of reference for the observers which was discussed and agreed on the previous day,” read the Ethiopian irrigation ministry statement, adding that it had been agreed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan that they would compare the exchanged documents and focus the upcoming negotiations on the outstanding differences.

In its statement, Ethiopia said that the three countries had discussed the issues of concern, including the filling and annual operation of the GERD.

During the three days of online talks they also exchanged views on the guidelines and rules Ethiopia had shared with the two downstream countries, and on a proposal by Sudan.

“Ethiopia reiterated the need for the three countries to focus on and approach the negotiation with good faith and commitment to achieve a win-win outcome,” read the statement, with no reference to any Egyptian or Sudanese concerns.

The Egyptian irrigation ministry said on Thursday that Egypt and Sudan had expressed concerns about a new Ethiopian proposal on filling and operation of the mega-dam, saying it backtracks on previous negotiations.

“The Ethiopian document completely backtracks from the principles and rules that were agreed upon between the three countries during the negotiations sponsored by the United States and the World Bank. It also brushes aside all the technical understandings reached in the previous rounds of negotiations,” read the Egyptian statement.

“Ethiopia should revise its position, which impedes any possibility of reaching an agreement. Egypt stresses that Ethiopia should not take any unilateral action in violation of its legal obligations, especially the Declaration of Principles in 2015,” read the Egyptian statement.

Talks began this week via videoconference, having stalled since February when meetings were taking place in Washington under the mediation of the World Bank and the US. Those meetings had resulted in a draft agreement, which only Egypt initialled.

In its statement, Egypt asserted its adherence to the agreement reached in the talks in Washington as a fair and balanced agreement “by which Ethiopia can achieve its development goals while safekeeping the rights of the two downstream countries.”

Egyptian irrigation ministry spokesman Ahmed El-Sebaei said on Thursday in separate remarks that Egypt had put in place four conditions during the online talks: confirmation from Ethiopia it would take no “unilateral action” on filling the dam until an agreement is reached; a specific timeframe from 9 to 13 June to reach an agreement on the filling and operation of the dam; a condition that the talks be based on the terms of reference from the Washington and World Bank-brokered document in February; and a condition that the observers who have been attending the meetings act as “facilitators.”

The Sudanese irrigation ministry said in a Thursday statement that the three countries had discussed the documents of the agreement in an “atmosphere dominated by a heated debate” about several issues concerning the filling and operation policies of the GERD.

“Sudan asserted the necessity of reaching to a quick and accepted agreement between the three countries before Ethiopia starts the first filling of the GERD in early July,” read the statement, referring to a previous Ethiopian announcement that the reservoir of the mega-dam will begin filling in this summer’s wet season.

In May, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok said in a letter to Ethiopia that Sudan rejected any partial agreement over the beginning of the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in July.

Egypt reiterated in all its recent statements on GERD, as well as in the comments of the Egyptian officials, that it had demanded confirmation from Ethiopia that it would take no “unilateral action” on filling the dam until an agreement is reached.

“The three countries agreed at the end of Thursday’s session to exchange view about the disputed point of difference in a way that will enable reaching consensus concerning those issues,” said the statement from Khartoum.

There were no more details about the “Sudanese proposal” mentioned in the Ethiopian statement in the Sudanese statements.

The online talks will resume on Saturday, chaired by Sudan.

The US, South Africa and the EU are attending as observers.

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion mega-dam on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

Egypt receives an annual release of 55.5 billion cubic metres from its High Aswan Dam, while it requires over 80 billion cubic metres to meet its needs. The country bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.

Cairo fears the dam will diminish its water supply from the Nile, on which it relies for most of its fresh water.

The populous country currently has a water share of around 570 cubic metres per person annually, well below the water scarcity level of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year. The figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic metres by 2025.

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