Egypt has stepped up its rhetoric against Ethiopia, aiming to put an end to the eight years of fruitless negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the deadlock in the negotiations carried out by cabinet ministers representing three countries was "surprising."
Shoukry was speaking during a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Cairo.
The Minister was referring to the meeting of Water Resources and Irrigation Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, in Cairo on Sunday and Monday, which failed to reach an agreement, after Ethiopia refused to discuss the Egyptian proposal for the rules of filling and operating GERD.
At the same time, Cairo rejected Ethiopia's proposal and Shoukry stressed that Egypt seeks to set a specific time to reach results, and wants to reach a point of consensus and mutual understanding with other countries, while preserving the interests of Egypt and Sudan.
Last week, during talks with his Kenyan counterpart, Monica Goma, Shoukry expressed Egypt’s unease over the prolonged negotiations.
Shoukry pointed out that over the last four years, no tangible progress has been achieved in the framework of the Agreement of Principles signed between the three countries in March 2015.
Egypt fears that the dam will damage its limited share of the Nile water, about 55.5 billion cubic meters, which the country needs for more than 90 percent for its supply of drinking water, irrigation for agriculture and industry.
Despite the differences, Egypt and Ethiopia have been keen in recent years to emphasize the strength of their relations.
However, recent Egyptian statements indicate that Cairo wants to send a strong diplomatic message to Addis Ababa on the need to limit useless negotiations, according to Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, a former Egyptian irrigation minister.
Allam told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt can still pressure Ethiopia with other issues, however, reaching an agreement between the two countries needs international mediation, which Addis Ababa rejects.
A report from International Crisis Group earlier this year warned that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan could “blunder into a crisis if they do not strike a bargain before the GERD begins operation”.
Spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohammed al-Sibai informed Asharq Al-Awsat that his country aims to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
He was referring to the meeting of the independent scientific group of experts from the countries which will be held in Khartoum between September 30 and October 3, followed by a two-day meeting of the three states' Water Resources and Irrigation Ministers on October 4.
He explained that the meetings aim to resolve the technical dispute between the Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese visions on the rules of filling the dam.
A note circulated by the Egyptian foreign ministry to diplomats last week points to key differences over the annual flow of water that should be guaranteed to Egypt and how to manage flows during droughts.
The Egyptian and Ethiopian proposals agree that the first of five phases for filling the dam should take two years, at the end of which the GERD’s reservoir in Ethiopia would be filled to 595 meters and all the dam’s hydropower turbines would become operational, based on the note seen by Reuters.
But the Egyptian proposal says that if this first phase coincides with an extreme drought on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, similar to that experienced in 1979-1980, then the two-year period should be extended to keep the water level at Egypt’s High Aswan Dam from dropping below 165 meters.
Without such a concession, Egypt says it would risk losing more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion in economic output annually, as well as electricity valued at $300 million.
After the first stage of filling, Egypt’s proposal requires a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the GERD, while Ethiopia suggests 35 bcm, according to the note.
In 2011, Addis Ababa announced the construction of the $4 billion dam to be the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.
In January, Ethiopia’s Water and Energy Minister said that following construction delays, the dam would start production by the end of 2020 and be fully operational by 2022.