Egypt, Sudan welcome UNSC statement on GERD, Ethiopia claims it's not binding

Amr Kandil , Thursday 16 Sep 2021

The settlement should be a mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD within a reasonable time frame, the UNSC said in a declaration drafted by Tunisia

File Photo: This satellite image shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. AP

Egypt and Sudan welcomed a presidential statement issued by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday encouraging Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to continue the African Union-sponsored talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Ethiopia, however, said it will not recognise any claim that may be raised on the basis of this statement.

The UNSC adopted a draft presidential statement on Wednesday encouraging Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan “to resume negotiations” under the auspices of the African Union to swiftly conclude a deal on Ethiopia’s controversial mega-dam on the Nile.

The settlement should be a “mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation” of the GERD “within a reasonable time frame,” the UNSC said in a declaration drafted by Tunisia.

A press release by the Ethiopian foreign ministry on Wednesday welcomed the UNSC’s step to direct the GERD issue to the African Union-sponsored negotiations but claimed that the issue is outside of the council’s mandate.

“It is regrettable that the council [has chosen to impose] itself over an issue of water rights and development that is outside of its mandate,” the statement read.

The UNSC’s presidential statement came two months after Tunisia submitted a draft resolution on the GERD to the 15-member council, calling on the three countries to finalise the text of a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD within a period of six months.

Tunisia is currently the only Arab member of the 10 elected and non-permanent members of the UNSC. Its draft resolution on the GERD was slammed by Ethiopia in August as “inappropriate.”

Security Council Report, a non-profit organisation based in New York, said on Wednesday that the council decided to pursue a presidential statement, as members were not able to agree on Tunisia’s proposed resolution.

In its press release on Wednesday, the Ethiopian foreign ministry slammed Tunisia’s draft resolution at the UNSC in July as a “historic misstep” that “undermines [Tunisia’s] solemn responsibility” as a rotating UNSC member for Africa.

The ministry also commended the UNSC members who “played a part in rectifying breaches against the integrity of the working method of the council in processing the statement.”

Taye Atske, Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the UN, claimed on his Twitter account that the UNSC’s presidential statement affirms that the council views the GERD file as a “water rights and water development issue.”

Egypt and Sudan will be ready for a “rule-based order on the Nile Basin, whereby each of the 11 riparian countries will utilise their share from the resource,” Atske said, without giving further details.

Qatar’s Al-Jazeera cited Atske as claiming that the UNSC has issued the statement in a non-binding format.

Egypt welcomes UNSC’s statement

Egypt welcomed the UNSC’s statement on the GERD on Wednesday, saying that it is “of a binding nature.”

The statement also “obliges Ethiopia to engage seriously and with a sincere political will with the aim of reaching a legally-binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam in the way mentioned in the security council’s presidential statement,” a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry read.

The ministry noted that the council’s presidential statement “affirms the special importance the security council members attach to the GERD dispute, as well as their appreciation of the need to contain its grave repercussions on international peace and security.”

The presidential statement also stems from the UNSC members’ “responsibility to remedy any deterioration in the situation resulting from not paying the necessary attention to it,” the Egyptian ministry added.

The members of the UN’s top security body, in their Wednesday statement, have invited all observers who would be acceptable to the three parties in the disputed project “to continue supporting the negotiations with a view to facilitating a resolution of outstanding technical and legal issues.”

“The security council calls upon the three countries to take forward the AU-led negotiation process in a constructive and cooperative manner,” the statement said.

UNSC’s draft statement ‘balanced’

Sudan on Thursday hailed the UNSC’s presidential statement as “balanced and takes into consideration the interests of the three sides,” affirming its readiness to engage in the African Union-sponsored talks, Sudan’s news agency SUNA reported.

The security council’s statement also reflects the importance the council attaches to “this very important issue and its keenness to find a solution to it in order to avoid its repercussions on security and peace in the region,” a statement by the Sudanese foreign ministry read.

Sudan, in its statement, expressed hope that the adoption of the council’s presidential statement pushes the three countries into resuming negotiations under the auspices of the African Union.

The Sudanese ministry said the negotiations should be conducted in accordance with “a new methodology and tangible political will so that parties sign a binding agreement that takes into consideration [their] interests.”

The ministry reiterated Sudan’s keenness to engage in “any operation that leads to the resumption of negotiations among the three parties under the umbrella of the African Union.”

This should lead the three countries to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD in accordance with the fifth article of the statement that gives observers a facilitating role in the negotiation process,” the Sudanese ministry added.

Resuming AU-sponsored talks

The DR Congo’s Foreign Minister, Christophe Lutundula, started a visit to Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt this week to discuss arrangements regarding the resumption of the GERD talks. The DR Congo is currently the chair of the African Union.

After concluding his visits to Ethiopia and Sudan, Lutundula has arrived in Egypt on Thursday.

In a meeting on Wednesday, Lutundula handed Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi a document on the GERD prepared by a team of joint experts from the Congolese presidency and the AU Commission, SUNA reported.

The document contains a brief of the points of agreement and disagreement among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia regarding the dam in order for the experts to study them and work on bringing the three countries’ views closer in a bid to help them reach a satisfying deal.

The three countries have shown willingness to continue the GERD negotiations that have been stalled since April.

Previous rounds of the AU-sponsored talks have collapsed before they could reach an agreement between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, with the two downstream countries blaming the talks’ failure on Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Given the failed round in April in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, the two downstream countries proposed the formation of a quartet mediation committee led by the AU that includes the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations.

Ethiopia rejected the proposal, however, accusing both countries of obstructing the AU-sponsored talks.

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