Egypt is seeking to break the stalemate of the talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed during the UN General Assembly that the negotiation period should not be extended indefinitely.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asserted that his country has “no intention” of harming Sudan and Egypt.
Abiy told the UN that the project contributes to the conservation of water resources, “which would otherwise have been lost to evaporation in downstream countries.”
Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been in negotiations, under the auspices of the African Union, hoping to reach an agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam that Addis Ababa is building on the main tributary of the Nile.
Negotiations were suspended at the end of last August, after technical and legal disputes.
Egypt and Sudan fear that this will affect their shares in the Nile waters, and stress the need to reach a binding agreement that guarantees the rights and interests of the three countries, and includes a mechanism for settling disputes.
Meanwhile, the legal advisor at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Mohamed Helal, wrote a detailed statement at the Foreign Policy magazine, in which he accused Addis Ababa of trying to impose “a fait accompli.”
Helal reported that dozens of technical reports, statements, and hundreds of meetings have been held with heads of state and government, foreign ministers and water ministers, hydrologists and engineers, lawyers and litigators, and foreign mediators and international observers.
Yet, little has been achieved, apart from the 2015 treaty that provided a legal framework to govern the negotiations.
Earlier this year, the US and the World Bank sponsored an agreement that Ethiopia refused to sign, accusing them of “bias towards Egypt.”
“The reason these efforts have failed is that there is a fundamental divergence on the purpose of these negotiations,” wrote Helal.
The advisor explained that Egypt wants an agreement based on a “simple and mutually beneficial” quid pro quo; Ethiopia should be able to generate hydropower from the GERD while minimizing the harm on downstream communities in Egypt and Sudan.
He accused Ethiopia of exploiting these negotiations to assert control over the Blue Nile and to reconfigure the political topography of the Nile Basin.
Helal believes the reason for Ethiopia’s intransigence is that these negotiations are about much more than the GERD and its economic value.
Ethiopia considers GERD an instrument “to exercise unrestricted control over the Blue Nile, to free itself of the restraints of international law that apply to all riparian states sharing international watercourses, and force Egypt and Sudan into apportioning the waters of the Nile on Ethiopia’s terms,” according to the official.
Egypt is relying on US' strong role in pressuring Ethiopia to sign the agreement.
Helal also urged South Africa, as the President of the African Union, the US, and the EU to pressure Ethiopia to reach an agreement on filling and operating the dam.
Last September, the Egyptian embassy in Washington held a conference as part of a series of meetings organized by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry with experts in water resources management and irrigation to discuss developments in the GERD negotiations.
Weeks ago, the US administration announced a “temporary halt” of part of the US aid to Ethiopia, as evidence of the growing concern over Addis Ababa’s decision to fill the dam and the lack of progress in the negotiations.
Ethiopia has completed about 75 percent of the construction of the dam, which began in 2011, and Addis Ababa finished last July the first phase of filling the reservoir, in preparation for its operation.