Arab League emergency meeting in Doha discusses Ethiopia dam dispute

Ethiopia's Nile project has sparked water supply fears in Sudan and Egypt

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
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Arab League officials discussed a long-standing issue between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Doha on Tuesday.

A bitter dispute has arisen between the countries over the operation of the Nile dam and filling of its reservoir.

The emergency meeting, called by Egypt and Sudan, was held in the Qatari capital amid growing signs that mediators might be negotiating behind doors a "partial" agreement to govern the second filling of the dam.

"Egypt's Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, briefed his Arab counterparts on the efforts made to reach a binding legal agreement that takes into account the interests of the three countries," the ministry's spokesperson, Ahmed Hafez, said on Twitter, after the meeting began.

Mr Shoukry stressed that "Ethiopia's insistence on filling the dam's reservoir without agreement violates international laws," he said.

The Egyptian minister said Addis Ababa only wants to "enforce it's vision upon others.

"African mediation on the dam began about a year ago but unfortunately did not produce any results."

Key issues remain unresolved despite years of attempts by Egypt and Sudan to persuade Ethiopia to enter into an agreement on the handling of the project.

Ethiopia said the dam was vital to its economic development and power generation. Egypt fears it will imperil its share of the Nile's waters, which make up about 90 per cent of the country's fresh water supply.

Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and about regulating water flows through its own dams and water stations.

The meeting is held in Qatar because Doha currently holds the presidency of the Council of the Arab League.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani said his country is concerned about the stalled negotiations.

"We call on all sides to not take any unilateral actions on harming the interests of other states, especially on the water issue," he said during a press conference with the League's Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Egypt and Sudan's water security is an "integral part of the Arab region's security and we reject any action taken that may impact this," Mr Aboul Gheit said.

Earlier this week, Sudanese Water Minister, Yasser Abbas, said during a press conference in Khartoum that his country was prepared to conditionally accept a "temporary and partial" deal with Ethiopia to govern the filling and operating of the GERD.

Mr Abbas cited three conditions for Sudan to enter such a deal.

The first is for Ethiopia to sign off on points agreed on by the three nations in past negotiations, offer guarantees for the negotiations to continue and to agree to a timeline for future talks.

Sudan has no objection to negotiating a water-sharing agreement between Nile basin countries, Mr Abbas said; an idea that Addis Ababa has repeatedly suggested to replace what it sees as colonial-era deals that favoured Egypt and Sudan.

But linking a water-sharing agreement with the ongoing dispute over the GERD was "preposterous," he added.

Cairo and Khartoum will "politically and decisively confront any unilateral action by Addis Ababa", Mr Shoukry said this week.

Egypt has called for international support for its cause and wrote a letter to the UN Security Council about the issue last week.

Egypt said Ethiopia was thwarting efforts to reach a binding legal agreement that would guarantee the interests of all nations.

Talks mediated by the African Union became deadlocked in April.

A popular and well connected Egyptian television talk show host said late on Monday night that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia might be on the "threshold" of what he called a quasi agreement.

"There is a possibility that an agreement that's neither final or comprehensive is shaping up," said Amr Adeeb on the Saudi-owned MBC network. "Everyone may be keen now on projecting an image of strength that helps his negotiating position before a deal is struck."

On the Doha meeting, he said he wanted to see Arab foreign ministers send a sobering message to Ethiopia, long accused by Cairo and Khartoum of intransigence.

"Ethiopia must be made to feel that it's facing both a crisis and a chance for a win," he said.

The meeting in Qatar will also include discussions on the crisis between the Palestinians and Israel and ways to enhance co-operation between the Arab states.