UAE believes GERD deal is possible, Declaration of Principles basic reference for talks

Ahram Online , Wednesday 3 Aug 2022

The Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations said on Tuesday that the UAE believes a successful conclusion of the African Union- (AU) sponsored negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is possible, stressing the 2015 Declaration of Principles remains “a basic reference."

File Photo: The GERD. AFP

“The UAE believes in the possibility of concluding the negotiations on the GERD in a successful way and recognizes the valuable opportunity this presents to enhance and accelerate regional integration while bolstering cooperation and sustainable developments in the region and beyond in the spirit of finding ‘African solution for an African problem,” a statement by the mission of the UAE, the only Arab nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, read.

The UAE highlighted the “important role” of the AU, and welcomed the commitment of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to the negotiations led by the union, encouraging them to continue negotiating in “good faith”.

The AU had been mediating the GERD talks for nearly a yearlong, in the presence of representatives from the European Union (EU), the US, and the AU’s legal and technical experts as observers.

The AU-brokered negotiations had been led by South African – the 2020’s AU chair – from June 2020 until January 2021, and by the successor AU chair, DR Congo, until April 2021 without reaching an agreement due to Addis Ababa’s “intransigence”, according to the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

The AU, which is currently chaired by Senegal, has not brokered any negotiations for the $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project since then.

Abu Dhabi, however, hosted two rounds of technical talks on GERD in May and June 2022, according to the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA).

“The UAE believes the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD remains a basic reference [for negotiations],” the Emirati mission said on Tuesday, affirming the UAE’s support for the objectives of the parties to agree and resolve their differences to maximize the benefits to them and to their peoples.

On 26 July, Egypt received a message from the Ethiopian side stating that Addis Ababa would start the third filling of the GERD reservoir during the current flood season, which lasts from July till September, a measure that Egypt “rejects and considers a violation of the obligations imposed by international law on Ethiopia”, according to a foreign ministry statement.

On Friday 30 July, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry described the Ethiopian unilateral actions as “a clear violation of the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement and a grave violation of the applicable rules of international law” that oblige Ethiopia, as an upstream country, to not harm the rights of downstream countries.

Throughout the 11-year-long GERD talks, Egypt and Sudan have been seeking a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the GERD.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, has been evading a legal deal, preferring instead a set of “guidelines” that can be modified any time at its discretion. It also opposed a proposed AU-led quartet international mediation.

The quartet mediation, first proposed by Khartoum and later adopted by Egypt, aimed to add the UN to the then three existed observers – the AU, the EU, and the US – and turn them into mediators rather than mere observers to break the deadlock, but Ethiopia balks at such a step.

Shoukry’s remarks came in a letter sent to the President of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to register Egypt’s “utter objection” and rejection of Ethiopia’s continual unilateral filling of GERD without agreeing with the downstream countries on the means of filling and operating the dam.

The Egyptian foreign minister called on the Security Council in the sent letter to assume its responsibilities in this regard, including by intervening to ensure the implementation of the presidential statement issued by the UNSC, which obligates the three countries to negotiate to reach an agreement on the GERD as early as possible.

Egypt also reserves its legitimate right guaranteed in the Charter of the United Nations to take all necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security, including against any risks that Ethiopian unilateral measures may cause in the future, the statement read.

Ethiopia unilaterally completed the first and second filling of the dam and started earlier this year operating the first turbine of the GERD to generate power in the absence of a deal.

The two downstream countries have expressed concerns about their water rights and people’s lives, especially in times of drought, in case the GERD was filled without a binding deal, and have earlier accused Addis Ababa of attempting to prolong the negotiations to impose a fait accompli.

On the other hand, Ethiopia says the project — which will generate 5,250 megawatts of electricity when completed — is essential for producing electricity and economic development, repeatedly downplaying the concerns of Cairo and Khartoum.

Egypt has frequently stated that it has no objections to Ethiopia using the dam to generate the electricity it needs for its development plans. However, Cairo says it opposes any action that compromises its already inadequate share of Nile water.

Egypt, which is considered one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, receives around 60 bcm annually – mainly from the Blue Nile – while its needs stand at around 114 bcm, placing the over 103-million country well below the international threshold for water scarcity, at 560 cubic metres per person annually.

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