GERD Technical Negotiations Stumble, More Talks Planned For October

CAIRO, Egypt

Tripartite ministerial negotiations around the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have stalled, according to the Egyptian ministry of irrigation. 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.

The Reuters news agency has reported that a note circulated to Egyptian diplomats last week showed the extent of the two countries' differences, saying that Ethiopia has "summarily rejected" its plan for key aspects of operating the dam and dismissed Ethiopia's proposal as "unfair and inequitable". The note pointed to key differences over the annual flow of water that should be guaranteed to Egypt and how to manage flows during droughts.

While Ethiopia has suggested a three-year filling time for the, Egypt has insisted on a period of seven years.

The Egypt ministry statement 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.

A spokesman for the Ethiopia government declined to respond to the statement by the government of Egypt.

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 Cairo meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, 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”. Egypt has historically been particularly critical of the dam’s construction, arguing that it will reduce its legitimate share of River Nile water access, and thus threaten its water security.

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.

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