On separate visits to Cairo this week, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn and Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu met their Egyptian counterparts in a bid to settle recent diplomatic turmoil in the wake of the political upheaval at home.
Both officials traveled to Cairo to attend the Sixth High-Level Joint Ministerial Joint Commission, at which the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dominated the agenda.
The latest meeting among the leaders has come a week after President Isayas Afeworki of Eritrea visited Cairo. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has of late been engaged in diplomatic overtures with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Emerging from a meeting in Cairo Thursday with Hailemariam, President El-Sisi said cooperation between Nile basin countries should not be a zero-sum game, recalling that Ethiopia had rejected an Egyptian proposal for World Bank experts to mediate the dispute.
At a press conference, Hailemariam said: “GERD is a development of your own as much as it’s ours”. Meanwhile, El-Sisi said that, “the Nile should serve as a source of solidarity, and not a source of conflict”. He, however, expressed his “extreme concern” over the lack of progress in talks over the construction of a massive dam.
Following Thursday’s joint meeting, the two countries’ foreign ministers— Workineh and Sameh Shoukry— signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), witnessed by the Hailemariam and El-Sisi.
Earlier reports had it that Egypt is conspiring with Eritrea seeking to build a military base that hosts as many as 30,000 troops, a report later denied by El-Sisi.
Egypt fears the dam, about 60 percent complete, will significantly reduce its share of the Nile’s waters. Ethiopia has downplayed those fears, claiming the dam is crucial for its own economic development.
During a Thursday joint press conference with Hailemariam, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi stressed that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan needed to work rapidly to overcome the current stalemate over GERD’s technical studies.
El-Sisi highlighted at a Q and A session that the required technical studies were set as a condition to determine the dam’s operation mechanism before the reservoir start filling, according to the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015 between the three states.
He explained that Egypt has never had any problem with development efforts by Nile Basin states as long as they do not harm Egypt’s interests.
He further said that the Ethio-Egyptian summit proved that both countries have the political will and determination to overcome any obstacles standing in the way of amicable relations.
“We appreciate Ethiopia’s commitment on not harming Egypt’s water interests, but it is essential that the only way to accomplish this is to complete the required studies and to adhere to its results in order to avoid any adverse effects on the two downstream countries,” El-Sisi added.
El-Sisi further reiterated Egypt’s previous suggestion to tap the World Bank as a mediator in tripartite technical negotiations on GERD’s impacts.
On January 8, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated that Egypt has not received any official response from either Sudan or Ethiopia to its suggestion.
Considered as a move to re-build mutual trust, Shoukry visited Ethiopia last December with new suggestions regarding the dam to defuse tensions between the three countries.
The Tripartite National Committee on the Renaissance Dam (TNCRD) meeting held in Cairo November 12 concluded without reaching an agreement regarding the guidelines suggested by a study on the dam’s potential effects on Nile Basin states.