President Donald Trump said he met with representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to mediate a dispute over a giant dam Ethiopia is building on a Nile tributary whose waters are vital to all three nations.
“The meeting went well and discussions will continue during the day!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
The US Department of Treasury said in a statement on Wednesday that ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan reached “a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation” of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
According to the statement, “The foreign ministers noted their agreement to hold four technical governmental meetings at the level of water ministers. The ministers agreed that the World Bank and the United States would support and attend the meetings as observers. The ministers also agreed to work toward completion of an agreement by January 15, 2020, and would attend two meetings in Washington DC on December 9, 2019 and January 13, 2020, to assess and support progress”.
Since 2012, Ethiopia has been building what will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant. Experts believe that when GERD is launched, it will inevitably lead to water shortages in downstream Sudan and Egypt. The three states have held over a dozen talks since the start of the construction, but disagreements persist.
Controversy spiked earlier this year after media misquoted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as declaring his country’s readiness to wage war, if needed, to defend its right for the GERD construction.
Tensions have flared recently over the dam on the Blue Nile that’s set to be Africa’s largest hydropower project when completed. Egypt and Ethiopia are struggling to reach an agreement on how to fill the reservoir — a process crucial to ensuring a reliable flow to Egypt, which depends on the Nile for almost all its fresh water. Egypt is urging parties to respect a 1959 pact on water allowances, which Ethiopia rejects as belonging to the colonial era.
Ethiopia has suggested that filling the dam takes between four and seven years, while Egypt has suggested a longer time-frame, according to Gideon Asfaw, an adviser to Ethiopia’s Water Ministry.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Eithiopia and Sudan also spoke with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass, according to a Treasury Department statement. “The ministers agreed to work toward completion of an agreement” by Jan. 15, the statement said.
The meeting, convened by Mnuchin, came after Egyptian officials said negotiations with Ethiopia over how to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam had reached a deadlock. Ethiopia disputes that description, and says a series of technical talks between the three African nations are going ahead.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has thanked Trump for his efforts in resolving the dispute. Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nebiat Getachew, said his country would “present our stand, that there is a solution in technical discussion” and the meeting doesn’t represent mediation.
Construction on the dam is behind schedule and likely significantly over its original 3.4 billion-euro ($3.77 billion) budget. When the government ran short on funding, ordinary Ethiopians were tapped for donations and civil servants donated parts of their salaries.