'Too early to say GERD negotiations have failed,' says senior Ethiopian official

Ahram Online , Sunday 1 Nov 2020

The Ethiopian Ambassador stressed his country's adherence not to invite mediators to the negotiations.

FILE PHOTO: A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. REUTERS

"It is too soon to say the negotiations have failed," Ethiopia's Ambassador to Egypt, Markos Tekle, has commented on the ongoing talks between Addis Ababa, Cairo, and Khartoum over the near decade-long dispute caused by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Tekle said Ethiopia does not aim to negotiate forever, stressing his country's decision not to invite mediators to the negotiations, according to an interview published on Sunday by the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

"We have not asked for a mediator, and we still adhere to this position until now. We believe that Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan can discuss [GERD-related issues] and reconcile differences. Therefore we currently do not intend to invite any party to take part in [the negotiations] as a mediator," he said.

Tekle's remarks come a few hours before the resumption of the negotiations between the three African countries on the near-complete mega-dam under the brokerage of the African Union (AU).

The Ethiopian diplomat assured that his country still believes in negotiations under the aegis of the AU, while stressing the continental body should continue its role as a manager or sponsor of the negotiation meetings and not as a mediator.

"This is the best way to move forward," he added.

The African Union had stepped in the long-running dispute after the tripartite negotiations reached deadlock last year as did talks sponsored by the US and the World Bank in February.

In a surprise statement last week, US President Donald Trump lashed out against Ethiopia for its withdrawal from the final round of the US-brokered negotiations in February, adding that Cairo's concerns in the dispute are legitimate.

Trump said "It's a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way," adding that "Egypt could end up blowing up the dam."

Tekeli refused, during the interview, to comment on Trump's statements, considering the official response released by his country as enough.

Without mentioning him explicitly, the Ethiopian prime minister's office said shortly after Trump's remarks that statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms are still abound.

In September, the US announced suspending a portion of its financial aid for Ethiopia, citing lack of progress on talks and Ethiopia's "unilateral decision" to start filling the dam's reservoir, a step Addis Ababa announced in July without reaching an accord with Cairo and Khartoum.

Responding to the US' decision, Tekle said "We have not sat down yet to discuss and review the impact of such decisions on relations between Ethiopia and the US."

"As for Ethiopia, we have very good ties, spanning more than 100 years, with the United States … we believe that our relations will go on despite such [situations]," he stressed.

The Ethiopian Ambassador denied any incongruence between his country's desire to continue the talks and filling its dam last summer despite the lack of accord with Egypt and Sudan on the rules of filling and operating the dam, the main sticking points besting the talks.

"Yes, we embarked on that, but we still hope to strike a deal through negotiations," he said.

"Sometimes, due to the coronavirus pandemic, or the change of the ruling regime in Sudan, or because of some outstanding issues, the negotiations did not go the way we wanted; and last summer, the rainy season was very abundant, and the first phase of building the dam was completed, so we found no harm in filling the dam. That is what happened," he explained.

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