US President Donald Trump told his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi Washington will keep up efforts for a deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile, Egypt’s presidency said.
The three countries were expected to sign an accord in Washington on filling and operation of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), but Ethiopia skipped the meeting and only Egypt initialled the deal to date.
“President Trump emphasised the US administration will keep up efforts and co-ordination with Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over this issue until the three countries sign an agreement on the Renaissance Dam,” the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
In its own statement on the phone conversation, the White House said Trump “expressed hope an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would be finalised soon and benefit all parties involved.”
Sisi told Trump Cairo would continue “giving this issue attention in defence of the interests of the Egyptian people, their capabilities and their future,” the Egyptian presidency added.
The dam is the centrepiece in Ethiopia’s ambition to become Africa’s biggest power exporter. It sparked fears in Cairo that Egypt’s already scarce supply of Nile river water, on which its population of more than 100 million people is almost entirely dependent, would be further restricted.
Egypt – a largely desert country – is short of water. It imports about half its food products and recycles about 25 billion cubic meters of water annually.
Ethiopia, which announced the dam project in 2011 when Egypt was beset by political upheaval, denies the dam will undermine Egypt’s access to water.
The dam is under construction near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile. Egypt and Ethiopia are at odds over how quickly the reservoir behind the giant dam can be filled and how much water Ethiopia should release.
The US hosted several rounds of talks in Washington with ministers from the three regional powers and the World Bank after trilateral negotiations failed.
“We have been trying to bring the parties together. They made progress. We were disappointed that Ethiopia didn’t show up for the last meeting,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“It is an important issue for the region. It is obviously a grave concern – there are safety concerns, there are water concerns,” Mnuchin said.
Ethiopia said it needs more time for deliberations. It says outstanding issues concerning the dam’s operation and the filling of its reservoir have yet to be addressed, but it can commence filling in parallel with construction.
“The US statement says Ethiopia shouldn’t start filling the dam without reaching an agreement is diplomatically incorrect. We think it is wrong and we expect the US to correct this statement,” Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew told reporters.
Egypt accused Ethiopia of “deliberately” not attending the last round of talks in Washington “to hinder the path of negotiations”.