Egypt says deadline over for Ethiopia dam negotiations after talks fail

Cairo says it will defend Egypt's water and national security against threat from Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Addis Ababa describes the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as crucial to the country's development. EPA
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Egypt said on Tuesday that a four-month deadline agreed to with Ethiopia to negotiate an end to a long-running dispute over a dam on the Nile has expired without any progress made.

“Egypt now reserves its guaranteed right under international charters to defend its water and national security if it comes under threat,” the Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry said in a statement.

There was no word immediately available from Addis Ababa on the outcome of the latest talks.

Cairo contends that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Gerd, could reduce its vital share of Nile water, which poses a threat to millions of jobs in agriculture as well as its delicate food balance. It has for years wanted Addis Ababa to agree to a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the dam.

Ethiopia has insisted the hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile is crucial to the nation's development and that Egypt and fellow downstream country Sudan have nothing to fear.

It has also balked at signing a legally binding agreement on the dam, saying recommendations should suffice, and rejected suggestions by Cairo for international mediation.

“The Arab Republic of Egypt emphasises that it will now closely monitor the filling and operation of the renaissance dam,” the Egyptian statement said, without giving details.

The latest round of negotiations was held in Addis Ababa and wrapped up earlier on Tuesday. It was the fourth and last round of negotiations under an agreement reached last summer between the two nations to end the dispute within four months.

Sudan, which will also be affected by the building of the dam, has consistently been a party to the negotiations.

“The meeting yielded no results because of the same Ethiopian positions that have over the years rejected compromise legal and technical solutions to secure the interests of the three nations,” said the statement.

“It has become clear that the Ethiopian side is determined to use the negotiations as cover to enshrine the de facto situation on the ground.”

Addis Ababa, it continued, is negotiating only to win an endorsement from Egypt and Sudan to exert its absolute control over the Blue Nile.

“In view of these Ethiopian positions, the path of negotiations has now ended.”

Egypt, the most populous Arab nation with 105 million people, has responded in a variety of ways to the perceived threat posed by the Gerd. It has at times hinted at taking military action but has more recently insisted that only diplomacy could bring about a solution.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has described the dispute with Ethiopia as an existential issue and repeatedly stated that Egypt would not stand by and watch if its water security is threatened.

A mostly desert nation, Egypt is ranked among the world's driest countries, with the Nile the source of more than 95 per cent of its freshwater needs.

The dispute over Gerd has taken added importance in Egypt, which imports a significant amount of food. Prices have risen globally since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in early 2022.

Updated: December 19, 2023, 7:38 PM