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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Ethiopia has dismissed an initial agreement, brokered by the US and signed by Egypt, on the operation of its Nile dam project.
Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia had been expected to sign the agreement in Washington on the filling and operation of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) last week.
The three nations have been locked in discussion over the dam which Ethiopia is building near its border with Sudan. Egypt fears the development could significantly reduce its share of the Nile - the main water source for Egypt’s population of 100 million.
Addis Ababa said on Saturday it rejected the US’s announcement that negotiations had reached a conclusion.
“Ethiopia does not accept the characterization that the negotiation on the guidelines and rules on the first filling and annual operation of the GERD is completed,” a joint statement by Ethiopia’s foreign and water ministries said.
It added that the text of the agreement, initialled by Egypt in Washington last week, “is not the outcome of the negotiations on the technical and legal discussion of the three countries”.
Ethiopia has also taken exception to the suggestion by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Ethiopia should not start testing or filling the dam before it had reached an agreement with the downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan.
The latest Ethiopian comments significantly escalated the standoff over the dam between Ethiopia and Egypt, which depends on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water needs.
Ethiopia stayed away from US-sponsored negotiations held in Washington on Thursday and Friday over the GERD. It said it wanted more time for internal deliberations on the issue.
Egypt initialled the agreement presented by the Americans and on Saturday served a thinly-veiled threat to Ethiopia. It warned that it would use “all means available” to protect the interests of its people.
Cairo maintained it believes its rights to the Nile waters are protected under a series of international treaties dating back to the last century.
Last week’s talks in Washington were supposed to be the final round in four months of US-sponsored negotiations attended by World Bank representatives. Deepening the deadlock, Washington has not announced a date for a new round of negotiations.
Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, has maintained throughout years of negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan that it appreciated the dam’s importance to Ethiopia’s development.
However, Cairo has also sought an agreement that would mitigate the impact of a lesser share of the river’s water on its economy and food security.
To Addis Ababa, the dam has become a symbol of national pride and a centrepiece in its development and ambition to become Africa’s largest power exporter, a feat that would match its growing political leverage in east Africa.
Sudan, another downstream country like Egypt but which is unlikely to be significantly impacted by the dam, did not sign the US draft agreement.
The Egyptian government has refrained from threatening military action to halt the Dam’s construction, but top officials, including President Abdel Fatah El Sisi, have repeatedly referred to the country’s share of the river’s water as an existential issue and warned that Cairo would never accept a bad deal imposed by Addis Ababa.
Some pro-government social media influencers have been urging the government to take military action, arguing that Cairo has already tried and failed to resolve the issue through negotiations.
Egypt, said in a statement on Saturday it initialled the agreement because it protected its rights to the Nile waters.
Cairo had “negotiated in good faith and with a genuine political will to reach an agreement that satisfies the interests of all three nations, but the tortuous negotiations did not bear fruit”, the statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry said.
“Egypt is looking forward to Sudan and Ethiopia to follow suit, accept the agreement and sign it as soon as possible,” it added.
Updated: March 1, 2020 04:57 PM
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