Egypt, Sudan confirm participation in renewed GERD talks on Tuesday

Menna Alaa El-Din , Monday 26 Oct 2020

A six-party meeting will be held on Tuesday via videoconference between the irrigation and foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia

GERD Reuters

Egypt and Sudan have confirmed that they will be participating in revived trilateral talks with Ethiopia as proposed by the African Union chairman over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) after nearly seven weeks of deadlock.

Sources in Cairo have confirmed to Ahram Online that there will be a six-party meeting on Tuesday via videoconference between the irrigation and foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the dam.

The sources added that Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry may possibly not be able to attend the virtual meeting due to a prior engagement related to a work trip abroad.

The statements came shortly after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the current chair of the AU, said talks between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on the dam would resume on Tuesday.

The GERD negotiations will resume following a seven-week hiatus due to persistent failure to reach a binding deal on the filling and operation of the dam.

The Egyptian irrigation ministry said in a statement that Egypt is ready to "seriously" negotiate in order to reach a fair and balanced agreement that preserves the three nations' interests.

Tuesday's meeting is part of the implementation of the outcomes of the AU bureau's meetings, held in mid-August, during which the three countries were called to negotiate in order to reach a legally binding deal, the ministry said.

In televised statements later on Monday, the irrigation ministry's spokesman Mohamed El-Sebaie said that Egypt decided to participate in the talks given that it has responded to all calls for reconciliation since the onset of the dam negations. He also stressed that legal and technical differences still persist.

Sudan also confirmed on Monday that it will participate in the talks proposed by the AU chair, stressing that a different framework for negotiations is required to resolve the dispute.

According to Sudan’s state news agency SUNA, Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas sent a letter to South Africa’s international cooperation minister affirming that Khartoum is committed to the AU-brokered talks to reach a binding deal on the filling and operation of the dam.

“Sudan cannot continue to negotiate in the same way as in the past rounds…which had led to a deadlock in talks,” he said.

He called for a “new mandate” by AU heads of state to support the upcoming talks, adding that Khartoum will participate in Tuesday’s talks to discuss a new framework for negotiations which involves granting a more effective role to observers and experts participating in the round.

The observers would have a bigger and more effective role in “pushing negotiations forward and helping converge viewpoints between the three countries,” he said, adding that the new framework for negotiations will be sent to the heads of state for ratification.

Egypt, which relies heavily on its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, pulled out of talks in late August after the three countries failed to reach a consensus on the legal and technical points of contention after Ethiopia proposed a package of non-binding guidelines for the filling and operation of the mega-dam.

Trump’s message to Ethiopia

The resumption of negotiations comes a few days after US President Donald Trump laid the blame squarely on Ethiopia for the failure of the negotiations and said that Cairo's concerns in the dispute are legitimate.

"It's a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way," Trump told Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a phone call on Friday.

Trump said that he had brokered a deal to resolve the crisis but that Ethiopia had broken the pact, pushing him to halt aid the country.

"They will never see that money unless they adhere to the agreement... You can't blame Egypt for being a little upset,” he said.

"I said it and I say it loud and clear," Egypt could "blow up that dam," he added.

In response, Ethiopia summoned US Ambassador to Addis Ababa Mike Raynor over Trump’s comments, which Ethiopia described as an “incitement of war."

The GERD, built 15 kilometres from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries since its construction began in 2010.

The first filling of the controversial dam took place this summer, despite Ethiopia not having reached a binding agreement with its downstream neighbours.

Cairo fears the massive hydropower project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, while Sudan fears it could endanger the safety of its own dams.

Ethiopia says the 6,000-megawatt dam is key to its development and hopes to become Africa’s biggest electricity exporter.

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