US calls for ‘good faith negotiations’ on Ethiopia’s Nile dam

Diplomat overseeing North Africa spoke of Egypt's need for water security and stressed need for inclusive democracy in Libya and Tunisia

'We believe that Egypt’s need for water security, Sudan’s safety concerns and Ethiopia’s development goals can be reconciled through good faith negotiations on the [dam],' said Karen Sasahara. AFP
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A key US official with the task of overseeing diplomacy in North Africa acknowledged on Wednesday Egypt’s need for water security and called for “good faith negotiations” to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.

“Concerns in Egypt about future water shortages have sparked tension over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project,” Karen Sasahara, deputy assistant secretary of state for North Africa, said during a virtual meeting hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“We believe that Egypt’s need for water security, Sudan’s safety concerns and Ethiopia’s development goals can be reconciled through good faith negotiations on the [dam], and the United States will continue to be actively involved with all parties to that end.”

Ms Sasahara’s remarks came after Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other State Department officials for the first US-Egypt strategic dialogue since 2015.

During those talks, Ethiopia featured on the agenda and afterwards, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that “the United States reiterated President Biden’s support for Egypt’s water security”.

Mr Blinken told reporters that he and Mr Shoukry had also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has taken an increasingly punitive stance with Ethiopia over the conflict and is set to expel it from a trade pact called the African Growth and Opportunity Act over human rights concerns in Tigray.

However, the Biden administration has taken a less involved stance in the dam dispute than former president Donald Trump, who put his treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, in charge of negotiations.

A senior US official told The National in September that the Biden administration is largely deferring to the African Union on the dam talks after Mr Mnuchin's efforts failed.

“Our interest is in a prosperous, stable and peaceful Horn of Africa, but we don’t want to insert ourselves into a process where we’re seen as supporting one side or the other to perhaps the detriment or the benefit of any party,” said the US official.

Ms Sasahara also touted the climate adaptation work that the US Agency for International Development is doing in Egypt, including a programme in 19 high schools that teach environmental protection.

She also reiterated the US stance that Libya should move forward with elections scheduled for December 24, despite increasing tension between the Tripoli and Tobruk-based factions of the Government of National Unity.

“The Libyan people now have the best opportunity in a decade to lay the foundation for a stable, democratic society,” said Ms Sasahara.

“Now is the time for Libyan political leaders to seek consensus, prepare for national elections and fulfil their commitment to the Libyan people to hold the vote on time.”

Vice President Kamala Harris will attend President Emmanuel Macron's conference on Libya in France on Friday. Mr Shoukry is scheduled to represent Egypt at the event.

The deputy assistant secretary of state also called on Tunisian President Kais Saied “to take concrete steps to return to normal democratic governance” following his suspension of Parliament in July.

“The United States shares the Tunisian people’s goals of a responsive democratic government capable of addressing the country’s economic and health crises,” said Ms Sasahara.

“We recognise Tunisian popular demands for reforms that improve the functioning of their democracy and urge President Saied to ensure that any reforms are adopted through an inclusive process.”

Updated: November 10, 2021, 6:04 PM