Ethiopia seeks to limit outsiders' role in Nile dam talks

Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal, despite years of talks, over the filling of the Ethiopian dam (AFP Photo/EDUARDO SOTERAS) (AFP/File)
·2 min read

Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia said Thursday it wants to limit the role of outside parties in revived talks over its Nile River mega-dam, a sign of lingering frustration over a failed attempt by the US to broker a deal earlier this year.

The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it nearly a decade ago.

Ethiopia sees the dam as essential for its electrification and development, while Sudan and Egypt see it as a threat to essential water supplies.

The US Treasury Department stepped in last year after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi put in a request to his ally US President Donald Trump.

But the process ran aground after the Treasury Department urged Ethiopia to sign a deal that Egypt backed as "fair and balanced".

Ethiopia denied a deal had been reached and accused Washington of being "undiplomatic" and playing favourites.

On Tuesday Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resumed talks via videoconference with representatives of the United States, the European Union and South Africa taking part.

The talks resumed Wednesday and were expected to pick up again Thursday.

In a statement aired Thursday by state-affiliated media, Ethiopia's water ministry said the role of the outside parties should not "exceed that of observing the negotiation and sharing good practices when jointly requested by the three countries."

The statement also criticised Egypt for detailing its grievances over the dam in a May letter to the UN Security Council -- a move it described as a bad faith attempt to "exert external diplomatic pressure".

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated Monday that his country plans to begin filling the dam's reservoir in the coming weeks, giving the latest talks heightened urgency.

The short window makes it "more necessary than ever that concessions are made so a deal can be struck that will ease potentially dangerous tensions," said William Davison of the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organisation.

One solution could involve Ethiopia "proposing a detailed cooperative annual drought-management scheme that takes Egypt and Sudan's concerns into account, but does not unacceptably constrain the dam's potential," he said.

The EU sees the resumption of talks as "an important opportunity to restore confidence among the parties, build on the good progress achieved and agree on a mutually beneficial solution," said spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson.

"Especially in this time of global crisis, it is important to appease tensions and find pragmatic solutions," she said.