A general view of the the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia (photo: AFP)
The US National Security Council (NSC) said on Wednesday that it is time to reach a deal over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) before Ethiopia starts filling the dam’s reservoir.
In a tweet on its official account, the NSC said that "257 million people in East Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal."
"The technical issues have been resolved," the NSC said, referring to the ongoing tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, adding that it is "time to get GERD deal done before filling it with Nile River water!"
In the latest bid to seal a deal on the controversial dam, the current tripartite negotiations, which were brokered by Sudan, have been ongoing since last week, with South Africa, the US and the EU attending as observers.
These latest talks come after negotiations faltered last February during US-sponsored meetings in Washington.
The US, represented by the Treasury Department, and the World Bank stepped in last year to host tripartite negotiations, which began in November and lasted till February after years-long negotiations between the three countries hit a dead end.
Following the four-month negotiations brokered by Washington, during which the three nations initially agreed on mitigation mechanisms to adjust the filling and operation of the dam during dry periods and drought, the US and the World Bank drafted a deal that was due to be signed in late February. Ethiopia, however, skipped the last round of talks.
Today's statement by the US NSC is not the first from the US stressing the need to reach an agreement before Ethiopia commences with filling the reservoir of the GERD.
After Ethiopia failed to attend the last round of the Washington negotiations, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in February, “Consistent with the principles set out in the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles, and in particular the principles of not causing significant harm to downstream countries, final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement.”
Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles -- signed between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in 2015 -- stipulates that all three countries should reach an agreement on the rules of filling and operating the 6,000-megawatt dam before starting the process of filling the reservoir.
Nevertheless, Ethiopian officials have on various occasions announced that Ethiopia will start filling its mega dam in July regardless of whether an agreement is reached. The latest such statement was on 11 May, when Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Sileshi Bekele confirmed that the filling of the dam will start in July.
Moreover, Addis Ababa told the UN Security Council earlier in May, in a letter sent in response to an Egyptian memo, that it “does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam.”
The disagreements that have impeded reaching a deal have mainly been over technical details regarding the operation and filling of the dam, which is under construction near Ethiopia's border with Sudan.
However, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters last Monday that the three countries have agreed on “95 percent” of the technical aspects related to the filling and operation of the giant dam, both under normal conditions and during dry periods.
The three countries “agreed on most technical aspects except for small details,” the Sudanese minister said, according to Sudan’s state news agency (SUNA).
"Disagreements now mainly focus on legal aspects, including making the agreement binding, methods of amending it, and the mechanism to resolve disputes over the implementation of the agreement,” the Sudanese minister said.
Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.
On the other hand, Egypt, which relies on the Blue Nile for 85 percent of its freshwater, fears the dam will diminish its water supply, that is already below scarcity level.