Sudan president hails Egypt ties ahead of signing major Nile deal

Ayat Al-Tawy, Sunday 22 Mar 2015

President Omar Bashir says Sudan’s ties with Egypt are in their best form ahead of a decisive deal the two states will sign with Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam and Nile waters

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi walks with Sudan
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, center right, walks with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on his arrival to attend a major economic conference seeking billions of dollars in investment that will bring together hundreds of business executives and foreign leaders, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Friday, March 13, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir has hailed his country's ties with its northern neighbor Egypt as "unparalleled" and currently in their "best form," a day ahead of a visit by his Egyptian counterpart  to Khartoum to seal a deal on the Nile River's waters.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is due to head to the Sudanese capital on Monday for a three-day tour that will also include Ethiopia, to sign a pact between the three countries that share the Nile waters on the mechanism of operating the contested Renaissance Dam that Addis Ababa is building.

"Egyptian-Sudanese relations are currently in their best form… with understanding and mutual interests unparalleled between any countries," Bashir was quoted as saying in remarks carried by state news agency MENA on Sunday.

Egypt has repeatedly voiced anxiety over the $4 billion dam, which when finished will have a 74 billion cubic metre reservoir on the Nile’s largest tributary, fearing its water supply could be diminished. 

Addis Ababa has affirmed the 6,000 megawatt dam, which will be Africa's biggest hydroelectric station, will not harm downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Sudan, bordering Egypt and Ethiopia and which also relies on the Nile for much of its water, said it backs the project.

In his first comments to Egypt's private local media outlets since the 2011 revolution, Bashir said that this country "would not accept harming Egypt's water rights and interest," emphasising Sudan’s understanding of Cairo's concerns.

Speaking of the mega-project's gains, the president said the dam will generate electricity that will benefit power-hungry Egypt and Sudan, as well as trapping sediments flowing downstream to Sudan's dams.   

The deal that is set to be signed by the three states on Tuesday is aimed at regulating the operation of the dam and the mechanism of the use of the eastern Nile basin, in a bid to resolve outstanding disputes on the project.

The agreement was first announced at the end of tripartite talks in Khartoum earlier in March between the countries' foreign and water ministers.

Sudanese Water Minister Moataz Moussa said Saturday that the president of South Sudan, Uganda's Prime Minister and leaders of the African eight-country trade bloc IGAR, the Arab League, and the African Union will attend the signing, according to Sudan's official news agency Suna.

Egypt had said the pact will hold Addis Ababa bound to mending the dam's specifications if consultancy studies on the project prove it harmful to downstream countries.

Bashir, who held talks with El-Sisi in Cairo in October 2014, applauded the Egyptian leader's efforts in "restoring [his country's] trust and fruitful cooperation" with Ethiopia.

Cairo believes its "historic rights" to the world's longest river are reserved by two treaties from 1929 and 1959, awarding it the lion's share of the Nile waters. Ethiopia had not signed either of these treaties.

In May 2010, four east African countries--Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda--signed a new water treaty, also referred to as the Entebbe Agreement, replacing the colonial-era pacts.

The deal, which was later joined by Kenya and Burundi and ratified by the Ethiopian parliament in 2013, was opposed by both Egypt and Sudan, citing reservations about new water entitlement provisions.

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