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Friday, 23 July 2021

Impasse reached in GERD negotiations; Sudan requests referral to prime ministers

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 17 Jun 2020
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS

Sudan has called for controversial points in the Ethiopian dam negotiations to be referred to the prime ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan for discussion, indicating that an impasse has been reached in this latest round of talks.

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said on Wednesday that the matter should be referred to the three countries’ prime ministers so a consensus can be reached and to achieve the political will to allow the negotiations to resume as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, the Sudanese irrigation minister had said that if the three nations failed to reach an agreement, the matter would be referred to their prime ministers.

The Sudanese minister’s statement on Wednesday came during a press conference held following the last meeting of the week-long tripartite negotiations that were brokered by Sudan and which had South Africa, the US and the EU attending as observers.

The latest round of trilateral negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, headed by the irrigation ministers of the three countries, was held today and was preceded by technical and legal committee meetings to reach satisfactory and fair solutions on contentious issues, a statement by the Sudanese irrigation ministry said.

"Despite the significant progress that has been achieved in the technical aspects related to the filling and operation of the Renaissance Dam, the differences in the legal aspects revealed real conceptual differences between the three parties on a number of issues," Minister Abbas said.

The Sudanese minister said that the disagreements over the legal aspects include Ethiopia pushing to make the agreement merely advisory instead of legally binding, and the mechanism for resolving disputes over the implementation of the agreement.

The disagreements also involve Ethiopia wanting the deal to include issues related to water quotas, while Sudan says that these negotiations are meant to address the initial filling of the dam and its operation, not water-sharing quotas between the three countries.

Abbas said that Sudan does not accept the unilateral filling of the GERD, as it previously stressed in a letter to the United Nations Security Council.

On 2 June, Sudan asked the Security Council to encourage all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions such as "filling the dam’s reservoir without reaching a comprehensive agreement."

Egypt has made the same demand on several occasions. 

On 10 June, the Egyptian irrigation ministry said in a statement that Egypt has called on Ethiopia to vow not to take any “unilateral action” with regards to the filling of its dams until a tripartite agreement is reached.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US National Security Council (NSC) said that “it is time” to reach a deal over the 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."

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.

The US has previously stressed the need for an agreement to be reached before Ethiopia commences with filling the GERD’s reservoir.

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 repeatedly said 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.”

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter as when finished it is expected to generate 6,000 megawatt.

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, which is already below scarcity level.

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