The latest round of negotiations among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan around the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam did not reach consensus on legal and technical differences before concluding 28 August. The three countries' technical and legal committees did not agree a unified draft at negotiations convened by the African Union (AU), attended by the parties’ ministers of irrigation with observers from the United States and the European Commission.
Construction of the $4 Billion USD GERD commenced in 2011; upon completion it will produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity from the Blue Nile and become Africa's largest hydropower project. Downstream, Egypt is concerned that the dam will affect its annual share of Nile water, causing shortages.
The Egypt-Ethiopia standoff is around timing of filling the reservoir. 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 three 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”.
After a visit by Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to Sudan 25 August, a joint statement from the two countries said “The two sides emphasised they would make every possible effort to reach a successful conclusion to the current tripartite negotiations”.
After the latest, 28 August impasse in talks, the Sudanese irrigation ministry said that "after carefully evaluating the development of negotiations and reviewing the work of experts over the past days, it has become clear merging the three proposals…stalled”.
According to a statement from the Egypt delegation, "The draft didn't live up to its submission to the AU Bureau due to the continued contention over many legal and technical points”.
The irrigation ministers are now expected to send letters to the AU expressing their respective positions.
United States Moves To Pressurise Ethiopia
Meantime, the US government will reportedly cut $130 Million USD in development aid to Ethiopia in an effort to prevent that country from proceeding with its schedule for filling the reservoir behind the dam.
According to US-based Foreign Policy Magazine (27 August), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved a plan to halt US foreign assistance to Ethiopia as the Trump administration attempts to mediate a dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the East African country’s construction of a massive dam on the Nile River”.
Ethiopia has asked the US government to clarify the reports: "We have asked for clarification on reports of the United States' decision not to give the $130 million it assigned to Ethiopia," Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia's ambassador to the US, said on Twitter on Monday…”We have heard that the issue is related to the ongoing negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”.
While US officials maintain that the States is an impartial mediator in the tripartite negotiations, observers have described Washington’s position as being more sympathetic to Egypt.
Former US Ambassador to Ethiopia David H Shinn accused the Trump administration in March of “putting its thumb on the scale in favour of Egypt” in the GERD dispute, amid suggestions that the Trump administration may be engaging in a quid-pro-quo for Egyptian and Arab League backing for the US President’s Middle East Israel-Palestine “Deal of the Century”, and concern over a potential Egypt-sponsored armed attack on the dam.