CAIRO (AP) — Sudan is pushing Ethiopia to resume stalled U.S.-brokered negotiations over its disputed $4.6 billion dam on the Nile that officials say will start filling in July.
In a letter to his Ethiopian counterpart Tuesday, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok stressed the need to reach agreement among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia before the mega-project’s completion, according to Sudan’s state-run news agency. Ethiopia has pledged to start filling the reservoir during the summer wet season.
The dispute over what will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam pits Ethiopia’s desire to pull millions out of poverty against Egypt’s concerns over its critical water supply.
Egyptian officials fear that the dam, if filled too quickly, will constrict its main source of freshwater, already under strain from climate change and rapid population growth. Ethiopia is banking on the Grand Renaissance Dam to provide much-needed electricity and income for development.
Bellicose rhetoric, including the Ethiopian prime minister’s warnings of possible military action last year, have turned the dam into an explosive issue.
Hamdok said Tuesday that he would refuse to sign a “partial agreement” for the dam’s filling due to the absence of coordinated planning and outstanding “technical and legal issues” dealing with the dam’s “environmental and social impacts.”
He urged the parties to resume talks immediately, even if via video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sudan has long been caught between Egypt and Ethiopia, as each tries to persuade the fledgling civilian government to take its side.
Negotiations, deadlocked for years, received a jolt last fall when the U.S. and World Bank intervened. The White House had pushed for an agreement by the end of February. While Egypt inked the draft agreement, Ethiopia skipped out on the last round of negotiations, stirring tension and throwing a settlement into doubt. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned that months of hard work remain.
Last week, in Egypt’s latest bid to gain support from the international community, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council about the dam, raising alarm about Ethiopia’s unilateral moves. He asked that Ethiopia reconsider its rejection of the latest deal for the sake of “security and stability in the region.”