'We handle GERD crisis transparently, update Egyptians on developments,' says Egypt's FM

MENA , Ahram Online , Sunday 13 Jun 2021

Shoukry stressed that Egypt and Sudan will work strictly to counter any negative unilateral actions on the part of Ethiopia and will take all necessary steps to protect the interests of both downstream countries

Sameh Shoukry
File photo: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Al-Ahram

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday that the Egyptian government is handling the crisis of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with full transparency.

The government keeps the Egyptian people updated about the latest developments related to the GERD negotiations, Shoukry told Sada Al-Balad TV channel in an interview.

He pointed out that his recent meetings with Sudanese officials – which were held last Wednesday during his visit along with Egypt's irrigation minister to Khartoum – aimed to place emphasis on the need to coordinate with Sudan to counter the negative impacts of the second filling of the dam.

The government follows up on all GERD-linked technical aspects, data and developments and assesses the dam-related phases, Shoukry said.

The minister stressed that Egypt and Sudan will work strictly to counter any negative unilateral actions on the part of Ethiopia and will take all necessary steps to protect the interests of both downstream countries.

Egypt always hopes that a breakthrough will take place in the GERD crisis, stressing that Cairo and Khartoum have showed a lot of flexibility to settle this issue.

Regarding the international community’s stance on the GERD issue, the minister said the UN secretary general had expressed the international community's concern over the second filling of the dam and its repercussions on the region.

"We are contacting all partners, including the US envoy, the European Union and the United Nations, to coordinate for solving the crisis," Shoukry added.

The US State Department issued a statement on 14 May urging the resumption of African Union-mediated negotiations in line with the 2015 Declaration of Principles and the outcomes of the July 2020 AU summit on GERD, saying that the US “is committed to providing political and technical support to facilitate a successful outcome."

By including references of the 2015 Declaration of Principles and the 2020 summit, Washington was backing a comprehensive and legally binding deal before the filling, according to experts.

The Egyptian minister stated that "we are in a critical stage as Ethiopia is about to declare the start of the second filling."

"This measure will have an impact on the negotiating path, but we will wait and see," he said.

On the 40-year compensations for protection of the Nile River that was requested by Ethiopia, the minister said such demands are "unacceptable and contradict the rules of international law and have no international references."

He asserted that Ethiopia breached the 2015 Declaration of Principles and refused to respond to solutions offered by African countries to settle the dam crisis.

Water shares

With regards to negotiations on water shares, the top Egyptian diplomat said the negotiations only concentrate on reaching a binding agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the filling and operation of the dam.

In August 2020, A similar Ethiopian proposal was rejected by Sudan, which threatened to withdraw from the GERD talks if Addis Ababa insisted on linking an agreement on the dam’s filling to a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile.

Sudan's Water resources Minister Yasser Abbas said at the time that he was “surprised” by Ethiopia’s proposal on the water shares, which he described as “dangerous.”

In April, when media reports surfaced again indicating Ethiopian intention to include a water-sharing deal for the Blue Nile in the GERD talks, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Ethiopia not to compromise Egypt's share of Nile water, saying “all options are possible,” while stressing that “cooperation is better than conflict.”

"I say to our Ethiopian brothers, [we] should not get to a point where you infringe upon a drop of Egypt's water because all options are open… cooperation is better… to build with each other is better than to disagree and tussle," El-Sisi said.

Ethiopia conveyed in April its rejection of the downstream countries’ water rights of what it described as “colonial agreements” when its Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dina Mufti said that “it is unacceptable” for Egypt and Sudan to use historical accords of Nile shares as reference points during GERD’s negotiations.

In response, Sudan, from its side, threatened that disavowing these agreements means “compromising sovereignty” over the Benishangul region on which Addis Ababa is building the controversial dam, urging Addis Ababa to commit to the international agreements it signed as “an independent state."

The Anglo-Ethiopian treaty was signed in 1902 between the United Kingdom – representing Egypt and Sudan – and Ethiopia – represented by Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia. While the agreement has prohibited the Ethiopian construction of any waterworks across the Blue Nile that would affect the river’s natural flow, it has granted sovereignty of the then Sudanese Benishangul region to Ethiopia.

“The Ethiopian claim that the relevant agreements are an insignificant colonial legacy is an explicit fallacy of historical facts, indicating that Ethiopia was an independent, sovereign state and a member of the international community at the time of the conclusion of those agreements, while Sudan was subject to bilateral colonialism (of the Ottomans and the British),” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Ethiopia was not party to other Nile water accords such as the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain, representing Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Sudan. The deal allocates 55.5 bcm of water to Egypt and 18.5 bcm to Sudan. Nor did Ethiopia take part in its 1959 supplementary agreement which confirmed Cairo and Khartoum’s annual quota and allowed the construction of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam.

Second filling of GERD

The Egyptian foreign minister reaffirmed during his telephone interview that the second filling of the dam is politically rejected, while Egypt and Sudan will take all available steps to protect their water interests.

With less than three weeks before the GERD’s scheduled second-year filling, Ethiopia's water and irrigation minister reportedly said last week the construction of the GERD’s body has not reached the previously planned height needed for a full second-year filling.

“The current height of the GERD is 565 metres and construction works are underway to reach 573 within the coming 20 days,” Ethiopian Minister of Water Seleshi Bekele was quoted as saying, according to Ethiopia-based news company Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC).

Addis Ababa’s officials have repeatedly announced they would unilaterally fill GERD’s 74 billion cubic metres (bcm) reservoir with 13.5 bcm in July and August to raise the build-up amount of water to 18.4 bcm, up from the 4.9 bcm it secured in 2020.

Ethiopia intends to commence its second filling of the GERD on 22 July with or without forging a deal, a unilateral move that has been rejected by both downstream countries, describing it to be “a clear violation of international law” and “threatens regional security and peace.”

Egypt and Sudan are pushing for signing a comprehensive and legally binding agreement with Ethiopia over GERD. However, Addis Ababa refuses and rather seeks mere guidelines that can be modified any time at Ethiopia’s discretion.

Resorting to Security Council

Commenting on resorting to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Shoukry said on Saturday all options are on the table.

Later in the day, Egypt sent a letter to the president of the UNSC expressing its objection to Addis Ababa' plan to move ahead unilaterally with the second filling of the GERD in July in the absence of a legally binding agreement with downstream countries.

The 95-page letter, which Ahram Online exclusively had a copy of it, included an overview of the decade-old negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia as well as how the latest round, which was held under the brokerage of the African Union (AU), faltered due to Addis Ababa's intransigence.

The latest talks of the $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project — which was sponsored by the African Union (AU) and aimed to revive the already stalled negotiations since January — was held in the AU’s chair country, the DR Congo, in April but failed to stir the stagnant water, with both Egypt and Sudan blaming Ethiopia’s “intransigence.”

In the letter, Egypt noted that the AU talks did not falter because of the lack of agreement on technical matters, but because of Ethiopia's policy of unilateralism, noting that Addis Ababa has adopted "substantively intransigent positions and a procedurally unconstructive attitude."

Egypt's letter to the UNSC came a year after two similar letters from Cairo and Khartoum to the UN body on GERD.

On 24 June 2020, Sudan said in a letter to the UNSC that it is “deeply concerned” about Ethiopia’s decision to start filling its controversial dam – which had been unilaterally concluded by later by Addis Ababa – on the Blue Nile without prior agreement with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Sudan's last-year letter to the UNSC came after Egypt sent a letter on 19 June requesting the UN body's intervention to resolve the dam dispute with Ethiopia. 

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