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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, hosted by the US, said progress had been made during talks on Monday in resolving a dispute over a huge dam being built on the river Nile.
The $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is being built by Addis Ababa on the Blue Nile, which accounts for about 85 per cent of Nile water.
Construction of the dam, near the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, is about 70 per cent complete.
Cairo says the project is an “existential threat” that could worsen its water crisis.
Egypt wants Ethiopia to agree to release a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres of water from the dam annually.
It also is also demanding that its reservoir be filled over a longer period than Ethiopia's intentions of four years, to keep water available during droughts.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi invited the US to mediate on the dispute two months ago, and Cairo and Addis Ababa have threatened military action to defend their positions.
Gathered for the second time in a month in Washington, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia – Sameh Shoukry, Asma Abdallah and Gedu Andargachew – met US Treasury Steve Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass.
Water ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan also met.
On Monday, the participants expressed appreciation for the observer roles played by the US and World Bank, and “noted the progress achieved in the technical meetings among the ministers of water resources in Addis Ababa and in Cairo".
“The ministers agreed that the strategic direction of the next two technical meetings should be the development of technical rules and guidelines for the filling and operation of [the dam], the definition of drought conditions, and drought mitigation measures to be taken," their statement read.
The African nations also stressed the benefit of reaching an agreement by mid January.
On November 7, the US hosted the first meeting with the three African states, who reaffirmed their commitment “to reach a comprehensive, co-operative, adaptive, sustainable and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation” of the dam by January 15.
If no such agreement is reached, “the foreign ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles will be invoked”, which would bring in outside mediation for the issue.
Monday’s meetings are due to be followed by another round of talks on January 13, but there has been no statement issued by the US on any progress.
A Treasury Department official contacted by The National was not immediately available for comment.
“Egypt and Ethiopia have been pursuing negotiations for nearly a decade while failing to reach any substantive agreement,” Timothy Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute told The National.
But Mr Kaldas said that bringing the US into the negotiations was “potentially promising”.
One problem for Egypt is that it has little influence over Ethiopia, he said.
Mr Kaldas said one way to a breakthrough would be if the US and the World Bank offered Ethiopia incentives to compromise on how quickly it filled the dam's reservoir.
“[The dam] will be completed. The debate is over the conditions surrounding the dam's reservoir and how to minimise the impact on Egypt's water supply,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday met Mr Shoukry.
The pair discussed subjects including Libya, US-Egypt ties, concerns over press freedom, human rights and Americans detained in Egypt, the State Department said.
Updated: December 10, 2019 04:52 AM
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