Al Ahram - Zeinab El-Gundy
Egypt slammed Ethiopia's unilateral initial filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Monday during the second round of African Union (AU)-brokered talks. Egypt criticised the Ethiopian action that was taken without consultation or agreement with downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Water and Irrigation said.
Ethiopia's initial filling of the dam "bears negative implications that show Ethiopia doesn't want to reach a fair agreement," said Mohamed Abdel-Atti, the Egyptian minister of water and irrigation. The Ethiopian action "violates the Declaration of Principles" signed in 2015, Abdel-Atti stated. Monday's trilateral meeting was conducted via video-conference in the attendance of observers and experts from the United States, EU Commission and AU Commission.
Abdel-Atti urged the need to seal an agreement on the filling and operation of the dam to reach consensus on other controversial issues.
He referred to Egypt's suggestion concerning the working mechanism of the talks held for two weeks, stressing that based on the 21 July AU mini-summit -- held via video-conference between the heads of state of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia as well as the president of South Africa, the current chair of the African Union -- the current negotiations will focus on filling and operating the GERD and that talks over future projects will follow after reaching agreement over the mega-dam.
Sudan stresses trilateral accord; Ethiopia repeats stance
During the meeting, Sudan urged the necessity of signing a trilateral agreement that safeguards its Roseires Dam on the Blue Nile and ensures the smooth exchange of information in accordance with international law, the Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation explained in a statement on Monday. Sudan also criticized the unilateral filling of the dam by describing the move as one that "raised concerns in case of reoccurrence in the future and specifically over environmental and societal impact of the dam on farmers on the Blue Nile."
Meanwhile, Ethiopia "reiterated its commitment to expeditiously finalize talks with a win-win outcome," a statement by the Ethiopian water, irrigation and energy ministry read on Monday night. Ethiopia’s water, irrigation and energy minister, Seleshi Bekeli, "underscored the resolve of the Heads of Government of the three countries to reach a ‘speedy agreement on the first filling in short term and comprehensive agreement addressing the outstanding issues on the GERD negotiation."
The statement did not address Cairo and Khartoum’s objections over the ‘unilateral’ dam filling and other outstanding issues. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that the technical and legal committees will hold meetings to discuss points of contention on 4-5 August before presenting their conclusion at a ministerial meeting slated for 6 August.
Monday's round of AU-sponsored talks came two weeks after the announcement by Addis Ababa that the initial filling of the dam’s reservoir had already taken place. The first round of AU-sponsored talks over the project ended two weeks ago without reaching an accord. The leaders of the three countries agreed in a mini-summit held later on the need for continued discussions over the filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly expressed their concerns over Ethiopia's unilateral initial filling of the dam during the first meeting of the second round of talks mediated by the AU over the disputed dam. Egypt said it agreed with Sudan and Ethiopia on the need to priortize reaching a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the mega-dam, and the AU called on the three countries to "work expeditiously to finalise the text of a binding agreement."
However, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said at a press conference in Addis Ababa two weeks ago that Ethiopia wants a guiding agreement on the GERD that is non-binding. Egypt has voiced concern over Ethiopia's refusal to agree on rules regulating the filling and operation of the GERD during drought and dry years.
Cairo is also concerned about future projects on the Blue Nile, a main tributary of the Nile, and demands binding dispute settlement mechanisms, which Addis Ababa has refused to include in a deal. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce the river’s flow, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought and dry years. Ethiopia, on the other hand, says the project is key to its development.