Egypt hopes Washington meeting will result in tripartite agreement on GERD

Mahmoud Aziz , Thursday 31 Oct 2019

Earlier this month, the Trump administration invited the FMs of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to a meeting in Washington on 6 November to discuss the contentious GERD project

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during the Arab Parliament general session on Arab water security on Thursday 31 October (Photo: Egypt's Foreign Ministry)

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry says that Cairo has immediately welcomed an invitation by the United States to host a tripartite meeting next week between the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Shoukry said that Egypt hopes this meeting will lead to the signing of a binding legal tripartite agreement that preserves the water rights of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Shoukry made the remarks on Thursday before the Arab Parliament's general session on Arab water security, which was attended by the parliament's president Mashaal bin Fahm and members of the parliament.

"Despite Egypt's sincere wish to reach an agreement on the rules of filling and operating the dam, these efforts have not resulted in this hopeful agreement," the minister said.

Shoukry pointed out that Egypt has been engaged in intensive negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan since the unilateral announcement by Ethiopia that it had started construction on the dam in early 2011, “even though this unilateral declaration violates the rules of international law, which stipulate prior notification and the necessity of conducting environmental and impact assessment studies on downstream countries prior to the commencement of the project.”

World Bank to attend meeting

Earlier this month, the Trump administration invited the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to a meeting in Washington to discuss the giant GERD project on Ethiopia's Blue Nile, the focus of an escalating feud between Addis Ababa and Cairo over water resources. The invitation was also extended by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on 21 October to David Malpass, president of the World Bank Group.

A World Bank spokesperson said in a statement that Malpass "plans to participate, assuming that all three countries are fully involved and also participate."

On Thursday, the Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesperson Nebiat Getachew told Bloomberg that his country will take part in the 6 November meeting.

Sudan has also announced its intention to attend the meeting.

International mediation

During the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi asked US President Donald Trump to mediate the conflict caused by the GERD.

In a first, the US Treasury Department was the one to invite all the parties to the meeting, as opposed to the State Department, which had repeatedly urged tripartite negotiations to resolve the crisis.

"It is premature to say that the United States of America is the fourth international mediator, because Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan should accept Washington as a mediator in the technical negotiations," Hussain Haridy, former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, said to Al-Helal weekly magazine.

In July 2018, then-Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn rejected a call by Egypt for World Bank arbitration in the dispute, saying that “seeking professional support is one thing, transferring (arbitration) to an institution is another thing. So we told them that this is not acceptable on our side.”

"All parties are waiting for the outcome of the forthcoming talks, in light of Egypt's keenness to follow the path of negotiation to break the deadlock," Haridy added.

The US is not the only party approached by Egypt for external mediation.

The Russian Kremlin has announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate between Egypt and Ethiopia on the GERD issue. The Russian offer came two days after Egypt's foreign ministry said it had accepted an invitation from the US administration to host a meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in Washington to discuss the GERD.

Earlier this month, President El-Sisi met with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on 24 October. The two leaders agreed that the GERD's independent technical committee should immediately resume its work in a more open and positive way.

The Ethiopian PM affirmed his country's commitment to the course of negotiations until a final agreement is reached.

The $4.8 billion GERD, which is being built near the border with Sudan, will be the largest hydropower project in Africa when completed in 2022, generating more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity.

Tensions have been building up between Egypt and Ethiopia in recent weeks after talks on the technical details governing the operation of the dam failed to make progress.

Egypt fears that the Ethiopian dam will diminish its water supply, which is dependent on the Nile, and is pushing for the dam's reservoir to be filled over seven years, while Addis Ababa insists on a three-year filling time.

Ethiopia maintains that the dam, which is nearly 70 percent complete, will not restrict the river’s flow.

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