Delegations from Sudan and Ethiopia met Egyptian officials in Cairo on Sunday for the latest round of talks over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The new round of talks indicate a warming of ties between Cairo and Addis Ababa after years of threats and heated exchanges over the construction of the dam and its numerous fillings.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi met Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in July at the Sudan Neighbouring States summit, held in Cairo to discuss an end to the continuing conflict in Sudan.
The two states issued a joint statement after the meeting last month, announcing that negotiations over the dam would resume.
Sunday’s talks are the first official negotiations between all concerned parties since 2021, when another round of talks sponsored by the African Union collapsed with no binding agreement and heated criticisms from both sides.
Both Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly sought to bind Ethiopia to an agreement on how it would operate its dam to limit its affect on the neighbouring states.
However, Addis Ababa has maintained that recommendations, rather than a binding deal, should suffice. It repeatedly refused to come to the table despite calls from Cairo and Khartoum.
On Sunday, Egypt’s Water Resources Minister Hany Seweilam emphasised the importance of reaching a binding agreement “taking into account the interests and concerns of the three countries” on the rules concerning the filling and operation of the dam.
The agreement should stress “the importance of stopping any unilateral steps in this regard, and that continuing to fill and operate the dam in the absence of an agreement is a violation of the Declaration of Principles”, he said.
Mr Seweilam was referring to a preliminary agreement signed in 2015 by the three Nile basin countries in Khartoum, which outlined a set of principles according to which the dam would be operated.
However, the agreement was described as vague, only outlining a list of 10 principles – some of which were common understanding, good faith, development and not causing significant damage.
The agreement did not get into the specifics of managing the dam and Cairo's response since then has ranged from military threats to assurances that only diplomacy could end the dispute.
Egyptian public opinion over the dam has also fluctuated. However, in recent years, the inability to reach an agreement has been used by opposition figures to criticise Mr El Sisi’s management of the country’s resources.
Cairo has repeatedly said that it considers the dam a matter of national security, adding that it threatened hundreds of thousands of agricultural jobs and Egypt's delicate food balance at a time of rising prices and a rapid increase in its population.
However, Addis Ababa has maintained that it is well within its rights to build the dam, considering the fact that the Nile’s main tributary, the Blue Nile, originates in Lake Tana in Ethiopia.
The tributary provides more than 85 per cent of the Nile's waters, with the rest coming from Lake Victoria’s White Nile tributary.