Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty travelled to Washington on Monday to participate in another round of the meeting of the water and irrigation ministries of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to reach the final formula of the proposed agreement on filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The three countries spent long months of negotiations on the filling and operation of the dam, which reached a stalemate in October 2019 before the US was invited to mediate the trilateral talks.
The next meeting will follow on from the last meeting between the three parties in Washington on 28-31 January.
Mohamed El Sebaei, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Irrigation, described the previous rounds of negotiations as “painstaking and laborious,” as everyone wants to reach an agreement satisfying to all parties.
He added in a televised phone interview on Monday that the GERD negotiations will be completed on 12-13 February, in the presence of foreign and irrigation ministers from the three countries, and the World Bank.
“The most important point concerning Egypt is its annual incidence that covers the water needs without causing significant harm,” said El Sebaei, defining the harm as an “inability to fulfil the water needs.”
He explained that the agreement would include setting a timetable and a mechanism to fill the dam at the time of drought and protracted drought, in addition to the coordination, monitoring, and follow-up mechanism, and exchanging data and information.
He affirmed the will of the Egyptian side to reach a final agreement, saying that the solution will be in the interest of all parties, noting that US President Donald Trump intends to organise a celebration for reaching an agreement and signing it at the end of this month.
He pointed out that the technical and legal committees’ work came with a mandate from the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Irrigation to reach a final formula and convert the agreed points into clear, binding, and unambiguous points.
On Wednesday, Ethiopian Minister of Irrigation Seleshi Bekele said in a press conference, “the negotiation is underway in a way that defends Ethiopia’s national interest and in a way that does not harm the benefits of lower riparian countries.”
“If there is a single word in the document to be signed that could compromise Ethiopia’s right to use the water, Ethiopia will not sign the document,” Beleke also said.
The three countries are currently working on detailed legal and technical documents regarding the filling and operation of the Ethiopian dam.
The last round of negotiations, which began on 28 and 29 January, saw an extension of two additional days. The signing of the final agreement is scheduled for late February, and the ministers have instructed their technical and legal teams to prepare final points.
Egypt wants Ethiopia to agree on releasing a minimum of 40bn cubic metres of water from the dam each year. Tensions have been growing between Egypt and Ethiopia in recent months after talks on the technical details governing the operation of the dam had failed to make progress.
Ethiopia hopes that the massive $4.8bn project on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.