A new round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan began on Saturday, aimed at resolving a years-long dispute over a giant dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile River's main tributary.
The three-day talks are taking place in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the current chair of the African Union.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Cairo wants the negotiations to eventually lead to a legally binding agreement over the operation and filling of the dam's massive reservoir.
Ethiopia has rejected a legal framework, saying it prefers a negotiated bilateral agreement.
Foreign and irrigation ministers of the three nations were attending the talks, along with experts from the African Union, according to Ethiopia’s Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele.
A Sudanese diplomat also said experts from the three countries and the African Union met on Saturday, before ministers who would meet Sunday and Monday.
Sudan said it would take part in the Kinshasa round with an aim of agreeing on a “negotiating approach” to ensure the talks would be constructive.
That would include an Egyptian-backed Sudanese proposal to include the US, EU and UN as mediators along with the AU, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Ethiopia has rejected the proposal, saying it “believes in resolving African problems by Africans.”
The dispute centres on the speed at which a planned reservoir is filled behind the dam, the method of its annual replenishment and how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multiyear drought occurs.
Another point of difference is how the three countries would settle any future disputes.
Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
The talks in Kinshasa come a few days after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said his country’s share of Nile River waters was “untouchable” – a stark warning apparently to Ethiopia, which is preparing for another stage of the dam’s filling later this year.
Mr El Sisi warned on Tuesday of "instability that no one can imagine" in the region if the dam is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.
Mr Bekele said Ethiopia “as always is determined for principled, equitable and reasonable utilisation without causing significant harm,” according to Ethiopia’s official news agency.
Egypt on Wednesday said units of its Air Force and commandos held war games with Sudanese troops, a day after Mr El Sisi's stern warning.
Egypt is a mostly desert country that depends on the Nile for almost all of its water needs. It fears that a quick fill would drastically reduce the Nile’s flow, with potentially severe effects on its agriculture and other sectors.
Ethiopia says the $5 billion dam is essential, arguing that the vast majority of its population lacks electricity. The dam will generate over 6,400 megawatts of electricity, a massive boost to the country’s current production of 4,000 megawatts.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to co-ordinate and share data on the dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River.
The Blue Nile meets the White Nile in central Sudan. From there the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.