Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan to hold new round of GERD talks 'within next few days'

Ahram Online , Thursday 19 Nov 2020

Cairo stressed on the importance of resuming negotiations in order to reach a legally binding agreement on filling and operating the GERD as soon as possible

A general view of the the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia (Photo: AFP)

Egypt has expressed its aspiration to participate in the next round of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations that “will be held during the next few days,” so as to reach a fair and balanced agreement that achieves the common interests of Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, and preserves their water rights.

Egypt's foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday, following the six-member ministerial virtual meeting of foreign and water ministers of the three countries that was headed by the Minister of international relations and cooperation of South Africa Naledi Pandor.

Cairo stressed on the importance of resuming negotiations in order to reach a legally binding agreement on filling and operating the GERD as soon as possible.

This, the Egyptian statement added, is being implemented as a result of the decisions reached in the African Union’s (AU) meetings that were held over the past months.

A separate statement by the Sudanese water irrigation ministry said Pandor has concluded Thursday's meeting by calling to continue the negotiations for the next ten days, although Khartoum objects to resuming the negotiations according to the previous approach.

According to a third statement by the Ethiopian foreign ministry, the next course of action in resuming the negotiations was discussed during Thursday's meeting, and concluded by reaching an understanding on the need to “continue the negotiations on the filling and annual operation rules of the GERD.”

“Although the delegation of Sudan conditioned its participation on the alternation of the format of the negotiations. The Chairperson of the Executive Council [Pandor] concluded the meeting by urging the parties to produce a proposal that can be presented to the meeting of heads of states and governments,” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said.

Sudan’s water irrigation ministry affirmed, in a statement, its refusal to continue negotiations according to the previous approach and demanded a return to the AU to include experts, and politically push the parties involved to resume talks in order to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties.

The Sudanese delegation affirmed, during the meeting, Khartoum's adherence to the AU-brokered negotiations “according to a new methodology” that gives a greater role to the AU experts to bridge the gap between the three countries, “while Egypt and Ethiopia insisted on the continuation of the proven negotiating methods that led to a dead end in the past.”

Despite the Sudanese delegation repeatedly explaining its position, the Sudanese statement said; Pandor in a clear procedural violation went ahead with the call to continue negotiations for a period of ten days, which Sudan “deems useless, and has been tried repeatedly in the past without much progress.”

On the other hand, the Ethiopian statement said that the trilateral technical meeting is expected to resume under the chairmanship of Ethiopia's water irrigation minister.

Thursday's meeting comes in response to a call from South Africa's foreign minister to discuss how to reach a mechanism to revive negotiations halted earlier in November.

On 4 November, which saw the latest round of the negotiations mediated by the AU, Egypt’s irrigation and water resources ministry said that it has become clear during that day's tripartite discussions on the Ethiopian dam that there is no compatibility between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the methodology for completing the negotiations within the next stage.

The previous round of negotiations between Cairo, Khartoum, and Addis Ababa, mediated also by the AU, came to an end in August as a result of disagreements on the rules for filling and operating the hydropower project that culminated in non-binding guidelines proposed by Ethiopia, which were rejected by Egypt and Sudan, both of whom seek a legally binding agreement.

That AU-sponsored round of negotiations was launched in July after negotiations between the three countries reached a deadlock last year, as did negotiations sponsored by the US and the World Bank in February.

The GERD, built 15 kilometers from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries. Cairo that has more than 85 per cent of its Nile water flow from Ethiopian highlands fears the massive hydropower project will significantly diminish its crucial water supplies, which is already below scarcity level, while Sudan fears it could endanger the safety of its own dams.

Ethiopia says the 6,000-megawatt dam is key to its development and hopes to become Africa’s biggest electricity exporter with the GERD, which is set to be the continent’s largest dam.

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