An African Union (AU) summit between the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan underscored the importance of reaching a legally binning deal on the filling and operation of a massive hydroelectric dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile that should include a mechanism for resolving disputes, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
The virtual mini-summit summit was chaired by South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current head of the African Union, to discuss outstanding points of contention over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has sparked years of tension with Cairo.
The meeting came after an 11-day round of talks mediated by the African Union failed to reach an accord over the massive hydropower project.
According to the Egyptian ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez, Tuesday's summit stressed that a legally binding dispute settlement mechanism would be the reference for interpreting and implementing the agreement – which is in line with the demands of Egypt and Sudan.
Addis Ababa, on the other hand, has repeatedly refused to include this mechanism in the deal, prompting Cairo to accuse it of seeking sole control of the river and looking to change the rules of operations unilaterally without the approval of the downstream countries.
Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told a press briefing on Tuesday that Addis Ababa’s major concern is that any agreement “would curtail future development projects on the Blue Nile.”
Abbas said once the agreement over this aspect is reached, “Ethiopia will retain the right to amend some figures relating to the dam’s operation” during drought periods.
A deal proposed by Sudan gives Ethiopia the right to build additional reservoirs and other projects as long it notifies the downstream countries and they are in line with international law, he added.
“Agreeing on this main principle will facilitate reaching an agreement over other points,” he said.
Sudan said last week that the three sides have agreed on “binding mediation” to resolve future disputes, and if the parties fail to reach consensus, the mediator will issue “a final and binding decision".
The Egyptian foreign ministry said Wednesday that the leaders stressed that refraining from taking any "unilateral measures" on the project constitutes “the cornerstone of making the negotiations successful.”
Egypt fears the $4.8 billion hydropower dam will diminish its water supply and Sudan has expressed concerns that the project could endanger its own dams.
The summit called for focusing negotiations on the dam as a power generation project, not a water-consuming structure, and not involving aspects related to Ethiopia’s future aspirations in the talks, the ministry statement said.
The three countries have agreed to press ahead with negotiations, while giving a priority to reaching a binding deal on filling and operating the 6,000-megawatt dam near the border with Sudan. The countries will then work towards reaching a comprehensive agreement on joint cooperation, the ministry added.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement on Tuesday that the first-year target for filling the GERD has been reached, and that Egypt and Sudan have agreed on “reaching major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement.”