Nile dam talks: 'alternative formulas' fail to break deadlock

Egypt says differences persist with just days to go before negotiations end

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Talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to resolve a dispute over the operation of a Nile dam being built by Ethiopia are inching towards a two-week deadline without a breakthrough in sight.

The negotiations, now in their 11th day, are the latest in nearly a decade of protracted talks between the three African nations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, producing about 6,000 megawatts.

Egypt fears the dam would reduce its life-or-death share of the river’s waters.

Sudan is concerned a structural breach in the dam could flood large areas of its territory and that without operational co-ordination the Ethiopian dam could close Sudan's own hydroelectric dams.

Ethiopia has sought to reassure Egypt and Sudan, saying the dam on the Blue Nile, the Nile’s largest tributary, was essential to ending poverty in the Horn of Africa nation and is meant to benefit, not harm, Egypt, Sudan and fellow basin countries.

But Egypt contended that Ethiopia was refusing to reach a legally binding agreement and was rejecting proposals for a deal on the flow of the river during persistent drought or a mechanism for resolving disputes.

A statement by the Egyptian irrigation ministry said the water and irrigation ministers of the three nations met on Sunday by video-conference, along with representatives of the US, the EU and South Africa, which heads the African Union.

The meeting reviewed Egypt’s “alternative formulas” on the major points of dispute. The Sudanese and Ethiopian sides also presented proposals designed to overcome legal and technical differences. “But the discussions reflected the persistence of differences over major issues,” it said.

The technical and legal committees were to meet on Monday, it said. Another ministerial meeting would follow to draft a final report to South Africa in its AU capacity.

The latest round of talks between the three nations have taken on added urgency because of Ethiopia’s repeated assertions that it would go ahead and start filling the dam's giant water reservoir regardless of whether a deal has been reached. Egypt and Sudan have opposed such a move, with Cairo saying it would not accept a status quo imposed on it.

Egyptian officials have avoided any reference to military action to settle the dispute, but President Abdel Fattah El Sisi recently declared – without mentioning the dispute directly – that his military was prepared to carry out missions outside the country.  Pro-government social media influencers have, in the meantime, been urging the government to strike the dam before it is filled.