El Sisi has high hopes for latest Nile dam talks
▶ Foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan travel to US in bid to break deadlock
Egypt and Ethiopia will begin talks in the US today about the impact a Nile dam will have on Cairo’s share of the river.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will meet in Washington at the invitation of US President Donald Trump.
The US talks come after negotiations between the parties became deadlocked, with Ethiopia rejecting Egyptian proposals to resolve the dispute and Sudan, which stands to benefit from the hydropower dam, quietly siding with Addis Ababa.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi spoke on the phone with Mr Trump late on Monday before the Egyptian leader tweeted lavish praise of his US counterpart, describing him as a “unique man who possesses the strength to face and deal with crises”.
Mr El Sisi thanked Mr Trump for his “efforts to sponsor the tripartite negotiations” and said he had “full confidence in this generous sponsorship, which will find an agreement that safeguards the rights of all parties in the framework of international law and human justice”.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the objective of the talks was to reach a “collaborative agreement” on how to resolve the dam dispute.
The dam was built on the Blue Nile, which accounts for about 85 per cent of the river’s waters that reach Egypt.
The Blue Nile and the White Nile, which originates in central Africa, merge near Khartoum to become the Nile that flows downstream through the deserts of northern Sudan and into Egypt, all the way to the Mediterranean coast.
Egypt is concerned the dam could significantly reduce its share of the Nile when a reservoir behind it is filled.
The country depends on the Nile for about 90 per cent of its water supply, but has publicly acknowledged the dam’s importance to the development of Ethiopia.
Cairo said bilateral co-operation could help make the effects on Egypt easier to manage. Otherwise, it said, millions of farmers would be out of work and the country’s food supply would be under threat.
But Ethiopia considers the hydropower dam to be essential to its development. The dam has become a symbol of national pride after millions of Ethiopians bought bonds to finance its construction.
Ethiopia wants to fill the reservoir in between four to seven years, but Egypt insists it releases 40 billion cubic metres of water every year.
That proposal was rejected by Addis Ababa on the grounds that it could not spare so much during droughts.
In a report published in March, the International Crisis
Group quoted experts as saying the reservoir’s capacity, which is about 74 billion cubic metres, is larger than what was needed for a dam intended to generate hydropower rather than store water for irrigation.
Egypt’s high expectations for the Washington talks have given analysts cause for hope, as well as concern.
Attiya Issawi, who has written on African affairs for Cairo’s state Al Ahram newspaper for decades, said the good relations between the US and both Egypt and Ethiopia were crucial for the talks to succeed.
“It will be difficult for Egypt or Ethiopia to reject any reasonable proposals made by the Americans,” he told The National. “This round of talks will be better than previous ones and is likely to produce a breakthrough.”
Abbas Sharaky, a geology and water resources professor who lectures at Cairo University’s college of High African Studies, said he believed the US invitation may have come too late.
But he said the “important question now is what is the price for America’s mediation to resolve the issue?”
The dam has become a symbol of national pride in Ethiopia after millions of people bought bonds to finance the project
The dam was built on the Blue Nile, which accounts for about 85 per cent of the river’s waters that reach Egypt, and Cairo warns that the country’s food supply will be put at risk if it cannot reach an agreement on co-operation with Ethiopia