Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are reportedly heading back to the negotiating table this Saturday in the nth attempt to resolve the GERD impasse. The meeting — which will be the first African Union-brokered talks following an almost three-month hiatus — will see the three countries try yet again to reach common ground on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Jeune Afrique reports, citing unnamed diplomatic sources close to the issue. Congolese President and current AU Chairman Félix Tshisekedi will preside over the three-day sitdown with the three countries’ foreign, water, and irrigation ministers in the hopes of reaching a lawfully binding agreement.
The meeting comes as Ethiopia appeared to have warmed up to resuming the fraught negotiations a day after President Abdel Fattah El Sisi indirectly warned Addis Ababa that it wouldn’t be allowed to take “a drop of Egypt’s water.” Ethiopia plans to “soon” restart AU-mediated talks on the operation and filling of the dam, Ethiopian ambassador to Cairo Markos Rike said at a presser yesterday, according to Sky News. Rike reiterated his Foreign Ministry’s previous statements that Ethiopia wasn’t officially informed of Sudan’s formal request to bring in the EU, US, UN and AU to help mediate an agreement on the dam’s filing and operation, underscoring his country’s transparency in the GERD file since its inception in 2011.
Talking is all good and well, but what really matters is whether Ethiopia will stick with plans to move ahead with the reservoir’s second filling in the upcoming rainy season (starting in August), which Addis Ababa has said it will do with or without an agreement. So far, Ethiopia has not shown any real goodwill in the negotiations, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin research division at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Hany Raslan told Hadith Al Kahera’s Ibrahim Eissa (watch, runtime: 3:33).
Reminder: We have regional (and broader international) backing on GERD: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain gave us public backing yesterday, marking a significant step in Egypt’s push to rally international support on the GERD issue. The diplomatic campaign has also encompassed boosting economic ties with Horn of Africa and Nile Basin countries like Somalia, Burundi and Djibouti in a bid to gain their support in the GERD dispute, Al Monitor notes. El Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry have each met and spoken with several international leaders over the past several months, including French President Emmanuel Macron and head of the EU Delegation in Egypt’s political division Marina Vraila. The international backing reaffirms the general opinion that Egypt has handled the entire issue with a steady hand and is in the right, Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies head Khaled Okasha told Al Hayah Al Youm’s Lobna Assal (watch, runtime: 12:42).
Background: Negotiations have been floundering since last year after Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan were unable to agree on a timeline for the filling and operation of the dam, with Sudan walking away from trilateral virtual talks in January that were meant to agree on a format for continued negotiations, insisting on an expanded role for the AU.
MEANWHILE- Egypt and Sudan flex their muscles ahead of the talks, with the two countries’ air forces conducting a joint air drill yesterday at Sudan’s Meroe Air Base. Special forces from the two countries also participated in the drill, according to a statement, which say the troops focused on raids and stealth operations and the management of joint air operations. The drill sends a “strong and clear” message to Ethiopia that Egypt and Sudan are willing and capable to resort to a military confrontation if Addis Ababa doesn’t cooperate, Sudanese political commentator Essam Dekeen told Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa (watch, runtime: 3:42).