Egypt accepts proposal to renegotiate on Nile dam dispute

Egypt and Sudan fear Ethiopia’s dam project will trap essential water supplies

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam powerhouse 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
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Egypt on Thursday said it was willing to resume negotiations with Sudan and Ethiopia over filling a controversial mega-dam that has been a source of tension between the Nile Basin countries.

"Egypt is always ready to enter into negotiations and participate in upcoming meetings to reach a fair, balanced and comprehensive agreement," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry said the agreement would have to take into account "Egypt's water interests, as well as those of Ethiopia and Sudan".

Cairo's thawing stance comes after Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok held an online meeting with Ethiopian leader Abiy Ahmed earlier on Thursday to hammer out a deal.

Addis Ababa has said it will not delay filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which it began building in 2011.

In April, Mr Ahmed proposed proceeding with the "first stage filling", which would collect 18.4 billion cubic metres of water in the dam's reservoir over two years.

But Egypt and Sudan fear the reservoir, which has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, will trap their essential water supplies.

The talks between Mr Hamdok and Mr Abiy were the first since a diplomatic dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia reached the UN Security Council.

Filling and operating the dam "would jeopardise the water security, food security, and the very existence of over 100 million Egyptians, who are entirely dependent on the Nile River for their livelihood", Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry wrote to the council on May 1.

In a response dated May 14, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew accused Egypt of being obstructionist.

"Ethiopia does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam," Mr Andargachew said.

Egypt wants Ethiopia to endorse a draft agreement emerging from talks this year organised by the US Treasury Department.

Washington stepped in after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi put in a request to his ally, US President Donald Trump.

But Ethiopia skipped the most recent round of those talks and denies any deal was agreed on.

Cairo's strongly worded letter to the UN Security Council raised the spectre of renewed conflict from the dam issue.