Egypt, Sudan call for international mediation to reach legally binding agreement on GERD

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 2 Mar 2021

The ministers called for a quartet committee composed of the United Nations, African Union, European Union, and United States to mediate between the three African countries over the filling and operating of the GERD

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Sudan
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Sudan

Egypt and Sudan called for international mediation on Tuesday to reach a legally binding agreement with Ethiopia on the filling and operating the of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

In a press conference in Cairo following their talks, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry and his Sudanese counterpart, Mariam Al-Saddiq Al-Mahdi, called on Ethiopia to show good will and resume talks over the GERD before the second filing of the dam.

Shoukry said that Egypt supports Sudan’s suggestion and called for international mediation, involving a quartet committee composed of the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and the United States (US) in order to reach a legally binding agreement with Ethiopia.

Last week, Khartoum proposed this suggestion to a delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the current chair of the African Union.

Both ministers also expressed their concern about how the talks between the three countries under the auspices of the AU stalled, warning that the water security of both Egypt and Sudan will be in danger if Ethiopia goes on with the second filling of the GERD.

Ethiopian officials have already announced that the second filling of the GERD will take place next July.

“The second filling of the GERD endangers the lives of 20 million Sudanese citizens,” the Sudanese minister said.

Al-Mahdi stated that both Egypt and Sudan are committed to reaching a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam before the second filling.

Last year, Ethiopia finished the first filing of the dam without the approval of Egypt and Sudan.  

Shoukry stressed on the role Egypt is playing to help reach a fair and equitable agreement for all-stakeholders, adding that an agreement on the GERD is the only way to achieve the interests of the three peoples.

“We are now coming to an important stage after the past rounds of negotiations,” said Shoukry, rejecting “unilateral actions” or policies that are fait accompli, saying that they may force Egypt to abandon positive foreign policy.

Ethiopia must show goodwill to participate in the negotiations, Shoukry explained, stressing that it is not possible to sustain “endless” negotiations.

The AU, US, and EU, as well as the World Bank participated in previous rounds of the GERD talks as observers.

On Tuesday, the EU stated that it was ready to help and play a bigger role concerning the talks on the condition that all parties involved agreed to it.

On Sunday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a press briefing that the US continues to support collaborative and constructive efforts by Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to reach an agreement on the GERD.

Price added that President Joe Biden’s administration will review US policy on the GERD and will assess the role the administration can play in facilitating a solution between the countries.

Last year, Washington attempted to mediate a negotiated agreement between the three countries but failed after Addis Ababa refused to sign on a draft deal in February 2020.

Former US president Trump’s administration had already suspended aid to Ethiopia over the unilateral filling of the reservoir.

However, Washington announced in February — days after Joe Biden officially assumed the office — it will de-link its pause on some aid to Ethiopia from its policy on the controversial Blue Nile hydropower dam, saying the resumption of assistance will be assessed on several factors.

Sudanese Ethiopian borders tensions

The tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over their borders were not absent in the press conference in Cairo as Al-Mahdi stated that Khartoum was open to make the Sudanese-Ethiopian region an area of joint cooperation but only after the demarcation of borders.

“The borders issue can be solved by diplomatic means” she said during the press conference.

In the past few months, Khartoum and Addis Ababa had tensions over the Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.

The two neighbouring countries have been trading accusations of violence in the area and territorial violations.

Egyptian-Sudanese cooperation

During the press conference it was revealed that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was going to visit Khartoum in the upcoming days.

According to Sudanese sources that spoke to Al-Arabiya News channel, El-Sisi’s visit will be next Saturday for a couple hours, where he will meet Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, the chairman of the Transitional Military Council. The sources added the GERD file will be among the top topics in the discussions between the two top officials.

The Sudanese foreign minister met El-Sisi in Cairo, where they discussed the latest developments concerning the GERD, as well as ways to boost strategic relations between the two countries.

This is the first visit for Sudanese Minister Al-Mahdi to Cairo after being appointed as a foreign minister in Sudan in February.

Al-Mahdi is already participating in the periodic foreign ministers’ meetings of the Arab League being held in Cairo from 1-3 March.

The visit coincides with the visit of Egypt’s Chief-of-Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Lieutenant-General Mohamed Farid to Khartoum, heading a high-ranking military delegation to partake in the seventh meeting of the Egyptian-Sudanese Military Committee in Khartoum.

According to Sky News Arabia, the Egyptian and Sudanese Armed Forces officials signed an agreement in the meeting concerning training and exchanging expertise.

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