UK is focused on encouraging Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia to reach solution in GERD dispute under AU

Ahram Online , Sunday 3 Apr 2022

The UK "is currently focused on encouraging Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to reach a suitable solution" for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute that satisfies all three parties - under the auspices of the AU, the UK’s Ambassador to Egypt Gareth Bayley said.

UK Ambassador to Egypt Gareth Bayley. File/UK embassy

"We see that many  partners are encouraging the parties to reach an appropriate solution and we see a number of partners who are willing to get involved in the matter. We do not want to complicate the matter by adding our voice as an official voice on the issue,” Bayley said in an interview with Nashaat El-Deehy, which aired on Saturday on TEN satellite channel.

The ambassador stressed that the UK understands that "the Nile River is the life line for Egypt ... [though] there are potentials for water treatment plants ... but the key question is the Nile."

He said that his country would take into consideration any potential official request from Egypt to help in the resolution of the dispute.

“In the event of an official request to add our voice and efforts and encourage countries to reach a solution, of course, we will take it into consideration,” Bayley said.

He added, however, that the UK’s current role is more focused on encouraging an African mediation through the African Union to reach a solution that is suitable to all parties.

The last round of multiple AU-sponsored negotiations to resolve the GERD dispute between the three countries collapsed in the democratic Republic of Kongo (DRC) in April of last year.

Egypt and Sudan have blamed the recurrent failure of rounds negotiations on Ethiopia’s “intransigence” and have repeatedly warned against the consequences of the unilateral steps taken by Addis Ababa on the GERD dispute on their water security and people’s rights. 

However, Ethiopia unilaterally implemented the first two fillings of the dam in 2020 and 2021 and started producing electricity from the dam in February of this year - steps that the two downstream countries have labelled as a breach to the Declaration of Principles (DoP) that was signed between Addis Ababa, Cairo, and Khartoum in 2015.

Bayley, who assumed the UK's ambassadorship to Egypt in 2021, told El-Deehy that the British government fully understands the importance of the GERD issue to Egypt, and, therefore, backed bringing the matter to discussion in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last year.

Last July, Egypt brought the GERD dispute to the UNSC, with the council issuing a presidential statement encouraging all three parties to continue negotiations to reach an agreement.

During the UNSC session, the UK called on the three countries to refrain from unilateral actions and to engage immediately in constructive talks under the auspices of the AU and the support of the international community.

Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN Barbara Woodward also affirmed the UK’s support to the 2015 Declaration of Principles, especially the principles of not causing harm and the right to utilise resources.

Last November, Bayley also affirmed the UK’s readiness to help directly in the GERD file in case of an official request from Egypt, given that Cairo has called for the involvement of the United States, the European Union and the United Nations in the issue.

The US previously sponsored a round of negotiations between the three parties in Washington in 2019, but Addis Ababa refused to agree to sign any binding deal.

Promoting tourism

During the interview, Bayley also called for rethinking the scope of Egypt’s tourism potential with the aim of doubling the number of tourists arriving in the country annually.

He also urged focusing on diversifying the types of tourism types besides archaeological tourism, including adventure tourism.

Thousands of British tourists are keen to spend much on trips in the mountainous areas of Sinai, he added.

The UK is one of the largest sources of tourists for Egypt, ranking from 2010 to 2015 as the second to fourth largest country sending visitors to Egypt.

In 2019, just before the pandemic, an estimated 476,000 British nationals visited Egypt, according to UK government figures.

Last month, the UK lifted a travel warning it had issued regarding the southern part of South Sinai and Fayoum, saying the UK no longer advises against all but essential travel to the southern part of the two governorates.

“This means it’s now easier than ever for the hundreds of thousands of Brits who visit Egypt every year to discover more of this amazing country,” the UK Embassy in Cairo said at the time on its official Facebook page.

Cooperation on the COP27

Furthermore, Bayley affirmed the UK’s keenness to cooperate with Egypt to pave the way for hosting the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh this November.

He also expressed hopes that the COP27 focuses on the implementation of climate action obligations, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C and financing climate action.

Moreover, the ambassador called for more focus on climate adaptation and mitigation efforts during the conference.

Egypt has vowed to adopt a comprehensive and impartial approach during its presidency of the COP27 to build on the success achieved by the COP26 that was held in Glasgow last year and ensure that the conference achieves positive results that support international climate action.

Cairo said it will also focus on the need to speed up financing for developing countries, especially in Africa, to enable those countries to face climate change.

Egypt has held numerous high-level talks with the UK and other international partners to discuss preparations for the conference.

In a phone call with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in late March, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson affirmed the UK’s keenness to continue cooperating with Egypt in its efforts to confront climate change.

He also hailed the role Egypt played within the framework of international efforts to face climate change.

Meeting with Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry — the president-designate of the COP27 — in January, COP26 President Alok Sharma stressed the UK’s “full” support for Egypt to deliver “ambitious” outcomes at the COP27, including ensuring that it advocates for those most vulnerable to climate change.

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