Egypt is exercising enormous statesmanlike restraint in its pursuit to find a solution to the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) General Kenneth McKenzie has said.
McKenzie paid a visit to Egypt last week and had official discussions with Egypt’s Defense Minister General Mohamed Zaki and Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohamed Farid.
In an interview with state-owned Nile News TV channel on Friday, McKenzie stressed the US's awareness of the importance of the Nile to Egypt, which shows "real leadership" in the issue of the Ethiopia's dam.
“The GERD is very concerning to us. We recognize the unique importance of the Nile to Egypt not only culturally but also for water supply and for the general economy overall,” McKenzie said.
Egypt, whose 100 million-plus population is expected to increase by 75 million by 2050, is considered one of the most water-scarce countries in the world as it receives around 60 billion cubic metres (bcm) annually – mainly from the River Nile – though its needs is 114 bcm.
“I think Egypt is actually exercising enormous statesmanlike restraint as it tries to find a political, diplomatic solution to this problem... Egypt is showing real leadership in this area,” commander of the CENTCOM said.
In the decade-long dispute over GERD, the two downstream countries have been negotiating with Ethiopia to reach a fair and comprehensive legally binding agreement but the efforts have failed each round of talks due to the "Ethiopian intransigence" as said by Egypt and Sudan.
Rather than the legally binding deal that Egypt and Sudan are seeking for filling and operating the near-complete GERD, which Addis Ababa has been building on the Blue Nile since 2011, Ethiopia is seeking mere “guidelines” that can be modified any time at its discretion.
“It [GERD issue] is a genuine problem and we are going to continue to work to find a solution to it, that would be acceptable to Egypt and everyone else involved as well,” McKenzie said.
The US, along with the World Bank, had stepped in to sponsor GERD talks from November 2019 till February 2020 which resulted in a mutually-agreed draft agreement. However, Ethiopia then skipped the signing meeting in February, citing “domestic reasons”.
Since last summer, the African Union (AU) has sponsored several rounds of negotiations in an attempt to forge a deal but to no avail, leading both downstream countries to lose hope in the AU-mediated path and calling for turning the talks' already-existed observers – the US, EU and the AU – into mediators in addition to involving the UN.
The $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project's last round of AU-sponsored talks — which aimed to revive the already stalled negotiations since January 2021 — was held in the AU’s chair country, the DR Congo, in April but failed to stir the stagnant water, due to Ethiopia's refusal of international mediation.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia intends to commence its second filling of the GERD on 22 July with or without forging a deal with both downstream countries rejecting such unilateral move, describing it to be “a clear violation of international law” and “threatens regional security and peace.”
While Addis Ababa argues the GERD issue is a matter of Ethiopian national sovereignty, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made it clear that “there is no sovereignty when it comes to an international river.”
Shoukry also stressed that Egypt would not accept harm caused by irresponsible behavior, and would steadfastly defend its water rights.