KHARTOUM –Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the controversial dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River will resume Tuesday, according to the chairman of the African Union (AU), South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The AU chairman said the resumption of the talks shows the “strong political will and commitment” by the leaders of the three countries to achieve a “peaceful and amicable resolution” to the issues over the dam.
Sudan will hold three-way talks on the dam project that US President Donald Trump has warned could spark military action.
The foreign and irrigation ministers of the three countries are to hold a videoconference, the Sudanese irrigation ministry said, after a three-month suspension of dialogue between the neighbouring states on the Ethiopian construction.
Ethiopia is nearing completion of the $4.6 billion dam which it hopes will spur economic growth and extend electric power to many of its more than 110 million people.
Egypt and Sudan, however, have expressed concern that the dam will reduce the flow of Nile River waters to their countries.
Ethiopia celebrated the first stage of the filling of the dam in August, citing heavy rains, to the dismay of Egypt. Ethiopia later banned flights over the dam amid concerns over possible military action by Egypt.
Ethiopia over the weekend accused Trump of inciting “war” over the mega-dam after the president on Friday spoke out against the project and said Egypt might destroy it.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew summoned US Ambassador Michael Raynor to clarify Trump’s latest foray into a delicate, long-running dispute over Nile waters between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.
“The incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt by a sitting US president neither reflects the long-standing partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States, nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations,” his ministry said.
Trump told reporters on Friday, “It’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way… They’ll end up blowing up the dam.”
On Saturday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office defended the dam and said Addis Ababa was committed to AU-led talks that it said had made “significant progress.”
A statement issued by Ethiopia’s parliament also stated Trump’s remark was “irresponsible” and “pathetic.” It added “no force on earth could stop us from finishing the dam.”
Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas called for a new negotiating approach that will allow “a broader and more effective” role for foreign experts and observers to push the talks forward, the state-run SUNA news agency reported Monday.
Sudan will take part in the next round to discuss “creating different negotiation methods and approaches,” he said in a letter to South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor.
Egypt depends on the Nile for about 97% of its irrigation and drinking water and sees the dam as an existential threat, while Ethiopia views the project as essential for its electrification and development.
There was no comment from the Egyptian government on Trump’s remarks, but pro-government media covered them extensively.
Egypt has repeatedly said it wants to settle the dispute through diplomatic means, but it has said it would use “all available means” to defend the interests of its people.
Trump’s most recent remarks have prompted some Ethiopians to urge Ethiopian-Americans to vote against the president in next month’s election.
The US announced last month it was suspending a portion of its financial aid for Ethiopia, citing a lack of progress in talks and Addis Ababa’s “unilateral decision” to start filling the dam’s reservoir.
Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage.
A military strike on the dam would be disastrous, one water expert warned.
“The dam already has more than 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in its reservoir,” Abebe Yirga said.
“It will affect thousands of people along the way if this huge amount of water gushes out of the dam.”
Ethiopia is building the dam on the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Sudan to become the Nile River, and about 85% of the river’s flow originates from Ethiopia.
Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023.