Egypt's irrigation ministry said on Wednesday that Ethiopia's adherence to its “strict” stances concerning the technical aspects of the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) would make the chance of reaching a consensus less likely.
The ministry said these aspects, including how to deal with drought and years with scarce inputs during both the filling and operating stages of the mega-dam, “represent the backbone of the technical part of the agreement for Egypt."
Egypt's statement comes on the fifth consecutive day of the new round of virtual talks with Sudan, and Ethiopia, held under the aegis of the African Union, with the aim of reaching a consensus on how the mega-dam on the Blue Nile should be filled and operated.
Up to 11 observers representing the EU, the US, the AU Commission, South Africa and the AU's legal and technical experts are attending the online talks.
Egypt also said that technical and legal differences over the dam still persist.
Two parallel meetings of the three countries’ technical and legal teams were held on Tuesday in an effort to reconcile opinions.
According to the ministry's statement, the technical discussions saw differences between the three countries, despite the flexibility Egypt showed via its proposals, regarding the measures needed during periods of drought, including prolonged drought, and dry years.
There are also differences on the rules of re-filling the dam following the periods of prolonged drought, the ministry said.
“Ethiopia is sticking to apply the same rules of the first filling, a matter that constitutes additional burdens for the Egyptian high dam, in addition to the impact caused by the drought periods, which represent a main point of contention,” read the ministry statement.
Ethiopia has refused to include the flow of annual operations in the deal, the Egyptian ministry said, as Addis Ababa wants to be in sole control of the operation of the dam, and to be able to change the rules of operations unilaterally. It would be able to do so without the approval of the downstream countries, and be required only to inform them of the change.That suggestion has been totally rejected by Egypt and Sudan, according to the statement.
Commenting on the discussion of the legal teams, the Egyptian ministry said that legal differences persist.
At the end of the fifth day of meetings, the three countries agreed to put forward their reports to the tripartite ministerial meeting.
They agreed to put off the bilateral meetings between each country and observers to Wednesday.
The previous round of negotiations between the three countries, held from 9 to 17 June, failed to produce an accord due to Ethiopia's refusal to enter into a legally binding agreement and its announcement that it will begin filling the dam in July with or without the approval of the two downstream countries.
In response, Egypt appealed to the UN Security Council to intervene to resolve the stalemate to preserve international peace and stability.
The Security Council urged the three countries to avoid adopting any unilateral actions and conduct talks on the basis of mutual understanding.
Abiy says filling will start
Earlier on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that his country will start filling the reservoir of the GERD to tap into the current heavy rain season, despite Egypt and Sudan earlier saying that the three countries had agreed to delay the filling until a trilateral agreement on the disputed project is reached.
"Ethiopia will not harm Egypt and will start filling the dam to tap into the [current] heavy rain season. We will not deprive Egypt of water and will reach an agreement soon," the Ethiopian premier was quoted by Al-Arabiya as saying on Tuesday.
The spokesman of the Egyptian irrigation ministry, Mohamed El-Sebaie, has said the recent remarks by Abiy Ahmed are deemed opposed to pledges made by the three countries late last month to not take any unilateral action over the project.
“We can't confirm that the filling has started," he said in televised comments on Tuesday.
"Egypt had spent 40 hours in negotiations with the Ethiopian side, according to the outcomes of the mini-summit held between the three countries' leaders on 26 June," he said.
The negotiation is contingent on only two main points: how to deal with periods of drought during filing and operation of the dam, which represent 95 percent of the Egyptian concern, he added.