Egypt ready to resume negotiations over Nile dam if Ethiopia has intention to reach deal

Ahram Online , Thursday 25 Jun 2020

Egypt has offered technical solutions that would enable Ethiopia to produce 80% of the dam's total power capacity in the most severe cases of drought, Egyptian Irrigation Minister said

FILE - This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
FILE - This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. (AP)

Egyptian Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Atti said Egypt has not yet reached a full agreement about technical aspects of a giant hydroelectric dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, stressing that Cairo is ready to resume negotiations if Addis Ababa is willing to reach a deal.

Sudan's Water Minister Yasser Abbas said last week that the three countries, through which the Nile River runs, have agreed on 90-95% of the technical issues over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

But the Egyptian Minister stressed the progress the Sudanese minister referred to was related to the Ethiopian project's impacts on Sudan, not Egypt.

In TV comments late on Wednesday, Abdel Atti said that the "backbone" of an agreement and what matters most to Egypt is dealing with drought, prolonged drought and dry years. 

"For Egypt, 95% [of the technical issues] is about dealing with drought," measures the three countries have yet to agree on, he said.

Egypt has offered technical solutions that would enable Ethiopia to produce 80% of the dam's total power capacity in the most severe cases of drought, the minister said.

Talks between the three nations reached a deadlock last week after Ethiopia refused to enter into a binding deal regulating the filling and operation of what would be Africa's largest hydropower dam, and instead suggested "guidelines" which can be amended or terminated, Egypt and Sudan said. They also failed to resolve a dispute over the binding nature of the deal.

The Egyptian minister said Cairo is ready to return to the negotiating table if Ethiopia showed the "intention to reach an agreement" over the dam, located around 15 km from the border with Sudan.

After negotiations stalled last week, Sudan proposed the referral of pending legal issues to the prime ministers of the three countries, then Egypt suggested the leaders meet on the following day via video conference, a proposal Ethiopia had rejected, Abdel Atti said.

Despite the prolonged row, the Egyptian minister described the relations between Egypt and Ethiopia as a “Catholic marriage” where there is "no divorce".

“Whether in the short term or the long term, there must be relations of good neighbours, friendliness, integrity and regional development" between the two countries,” Abdel Attai told MBC Misr satellite TV channel.

Sudan proposed on 14 June a compromise agreement that builds on points agreed during talks in Washington that stalled in February, and results of previous discussions over the past years.

The minister said Egypt only agreed partially on the Sudanese proposal, as drought mitigation measures have not been resolved.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile River for 95% of its freshwater, fears the dam will further cut its scarce water supplies.

Egypt last week called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to urge Ethiopia to conclude a fair agreement on the dam and refrain from taking a unilateral action by filling its reservoir, after the latest round of online talks failed to reach a deal and Ethiopia's announcement it will start filling the dam in July with or without an agreement.

Ethiopia sent a letter to the UN Security Council three days later to refute Egypt’s statements, accusing it of standing against an agreement.

On Wednesday, Sudan presented a letter to the UN Security Council in which it said it was “deeply concerned” about Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the dam without prior agreement with downstream countries which could cause "substantial risks" to Khartoum.

According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the UN Security Council would not address the technical aspects of the dam, but would rather work towards preventing conflicts and preserving international security and peace.

"Resorting to the Security Council is not meant to seek it to issue coercive decisions pressuring any party, but to undertake the responsibility to avoid negative developments and repercussions that might arise from mounting tensions" and encourage the three countries to resume the negotiations, he told the same talk show on Wednesday.

Shoukry had spoken earlier on the day with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the dam stalemate.

"The United States will continue working towards reaching an agreement" on the dam, Shoukry said in his TV comments.

Shoukry added that the talks can be resumed whether through any initiative by any of the three countries or through an invitation to a fourth party that is willing to sponsor an initiative.

Egypt and Sudan have common understanding and solidarity on different issues to reach an agreement concerning the dam crisis, he said.

Short link: