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US: Egypt, Ethiopia dispute over Renaissance dam escalates

The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could take take “months,” the United States (US)’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned yesterday.

Pompeo told reporters at the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa that the two countries were working on “formulating the terms of a final agreement on the dam.” “A great deal of work remains, but I’m optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this,” he said.

These remarks came during a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, that work on drafting the terms of a final agreement on the dam is nearing its end.

On his part, the Ethiopian foreign minister, Gedu Andargachew, said that there were “outstanding issues that need negotiation.”

Ethiopia is building a $5 billion dam near the border with Sudan it says will provide the country with much-needed electricity and economic regeneration. Egypt believes that when the dam is filled already scarce water supplies from the Nile will be restricted.

Egypt is almost entirely dependent on Nile water, receiving around 55.5 million cubic metres a year from the river, and believes that filling the dam will affect the water it needs for drinking, agriculture and electricity.

After three-way talks between the African countries failed, they settled in the US as an external mediator.

In November the US-brokered a meeting in Washington, setting 15 January as a deadline for resolving the dispute, which at one point looked set to break into a military conflict between Cairo and Addis Ababa. They agreed on four rounds of negotiations. The first was held in the Ethiopian capital, the second in Cairo and third in Khartoum.

Despite discussions looking up, over Christmas, they stalled again after the third round in the Sudanese capital.

Cairo wants Ethiopia to guarantee Egypt will receive 40 billion cubic metres or more of water from the Nile. Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele said Egypt had abandoned this demand, but Egypt insists it hasn’t and issued a statement to this effect.

There is also an unresolved conflict over how fast the dam will be filled, with Egypt fearing if it is filled too quickly, it could affect the electricity generated by the Aswan High Dam. Egypt wants it to be filled over seven years at least, while Ethiopia is pushing for four.

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