Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Irrigation from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met 14 January in Washington DC to discuss continuing differences around timing and technical regulations regarding filling and operation of the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River. The meeting was hosted by United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and included World Bank President David Malpass.
Ethiopia’s ambassador to the US, Fitsum Arega, said the talks were “fruitful and will continue”, while Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Egypt hopes to reach a balanced solution and a fair agreement on all aspects of the rules of filling and operating the dam, and is ready to continue negotiations "within the coming days".
The three countries have recently held a ministerial meeting on the GERD 8-9 January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as part of talks that began in November 2019 in Washington in an attempt to reach trilateral agreement. On 10 January, Egypt said that negotiations had failed to lead to tangible progress because of Ethiopia’s intransigence.
This was followed, 12 January, by announcement from Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that he asked South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa to act as a mediator among the three countries over the dam.
“As for Cyril Ramaphosa, he is a good friend for both Ethiopia and Egypt and is the upcoming president of the African Union. He can mediate a discussion between both parties to solve the issue peacefully because peace is the foundation of everything here in Africa…That is why he can mediate as a brother of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. I am sure that he will play a significant role in bringing us a win-win approach”, Ahmed said.
The United States and The World Bank have supported and acted as observers to the agreed schedule of talks to work toward completion of an agreement by 15 January, 2020 and that if an agreement is not reached by that date, that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles will be invoked, that:
“The three countries commit to settle any dispute resulting from the interpretation or application of the declaration of principles through talks or negotiations based on the good will principle. If the parties involved do not succeed in solving the dispute through talks or negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers”.
The first of the experts’ meetings, held in mid-November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was followed by claims in Ethiopian media that Egypt and Sudan have accepted Ethiopia’s proposal to start filling the dam in June 2020, when there will be high rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands.
Subsequent talks in Cairo in early December over the filling and operation of the dam did not reach substantial agreement.
A third meeting took place in Khartoum on 21-22 December, with the fourth meeting hosted by Ethiopia 8-9 January, again resulting in deadlock.
Egypt has insisted 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 earlier this year 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”.