Egypt's Foreign Minister (FM) Sameh Shoukry has expressed frustration with Ethiopia’s stance on filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Shoukry’s comments, in an interview in New York 22 September, comes after the first round in a year of tripartite ministerial negotiations around the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) stalled. A 16 September statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said that two-day negotiations among the irrigation ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan focused on procedural matters but did not address technical aspects, and made no breakthrough on impassses.
"The meetings did not touch upon substantive issues because of Ethiopia's refusal to discuss the proposal Egypt offered to the two countries," the ministry said, adding that Ethiopia's delegation refused to discuss a proposal on filling and operating the $5 Billion USD GERD.
Since the breakdown in talks Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has claimed that Egypt’s proposal puts Ethiopia’s sovereignty in question, saying in remarks to Ethiopian News Agency “any move that does not respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty and its right to use the Nile dam has no acceptance.”
The Nile River is essential to lives and livelihoods in Egypt, with a population of 100 million dependent on 55 billion cubic meters of Nile water. Egypt contends that Ethiopia, with a population of approximately 105 million, has access to over 900 billion cubic meters of water from the Ethiopian plateau.
Egypt insists that Ethiopia should fill the dam reservoir over a period of seven years and release 40 billion cubic meters of water every year. However, Ethiopia wants to fill the dam in 3 years and rejected Egypt’s proposal, claiming that it does not “respect current and future rights and development plans of Ethiopia over the Nile and complicates the filling of the dam”, according to reportage in Ahram.
Shoukry has said that Egypt has no intention to infringe on Ethiopia’s sovereignty but at the same time will not accept any infringement on Egypt’s. He believes that the dispute is a matter of international law, falling under the Declaration of Principles that was signed in 2015 by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia that ensure access to the Nile waters for all three countries.
An earlier statement from the Egyptian ministry said that it was decided to hold an urgent meeting of the (GERD) independent scientific group in Khartoum from 30 September to 3 October to discuss Egyptian proposals for the rules around filling and operation of the dam and that Sudanese and Ethiopian proposals would also be discussed at that time.
In July this year Ethiopia Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew expressed his country’s enthusiasm to strengthen bilateral relations with Egypt and a commitment to resume negotiations on the contentious, and massive, dam on the River Nile. At a subsequent meetings in Cairo, Gedu delivered a message from Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed communicating Ethiopia’s resolve to resume tripartite talks on GERD – which were expected to focus on implementation of the declaration of principles regarding water fills and operation of the dam.
Al-Sisi on this part reportedly returned greetings to Abiy Ahmed and expressed “hope for promoting various aspects of bilateral partnership between both sides”.
That exchange of goodwill came soon after, and perhaps in spite of, reports in Arab and Israeli media that Israeli firms, in May this year, installed an advanced “Spyder-MR” air defense system for GERD on behalf of Ethiopia, in the face of objections from the highest levels of Egypt’s government. There has been no official comment on these reports from the governments involved.
Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have engaged in tripartite talks since 2014 to reach a final agreement on the rules of filling and operating the dam. In 2015, the leaders of the three countries signed an initial agreement on the Renaissance Dam to guarantee Egypt’s share of 55 billion cubic meters of the Nile water.
A new round of negotiations among the three countries had been planned for April this year, but the ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the ensuing upheaval in Sudan resulted in postponement.