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Playing for time
Published in Ahram Online on 24 - 03 - 2020

Almost a month after walking out of US-brokered tripartite negotiations, Addis Ababa is working on another proposal for an agreement it said it will deliver to Egypt and Sudan soon.
“We won't subscribe to an agreement just because the US and the World Bank came forward with it. We need to take time and sort out sticking points,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew told AP last week.
Asked when the negotiations would resume, Andargachew said in another interview with The Reporter Ethiopia that the Ethiopian side does not believe the negotiations have stopped. “Therefore, after Ethiopia finishes the discussions it is conducting internally and when the Egyptians fully recognise that Ethiopia has the right to use its water resources, the negotiations will resume without any third party involved,” he said.
This is not new for Ethiopia, according to Mohamed Hegazi, former deputy to Egypt's foreign minister. “It has repeatedly adopted the strategy of playing for time, negotiating for concessions and withdrawing at the last minute.” Hegazi described this step as another delaying tactic.
“It had previously suggested that South Africa mediate to resolve the differences. Then, it called last week for holding a summit for the Nile Basin countries to resolve the dam issue. Finally, now it claims that it is working on its own proposal; more time wasting and a manifestation of lack of seriousness, bad intention and willingness to spoil whatever is reached in Washington,” Hegazi said.
A final agreement on the filling and operation of the dam was supposed to be signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in Washington at the end of last month. While Ethiopia refused to attend that round of talks, Egypt initialed the agreement. Sudan preferred to wait until Ethiopia signs the accord.
As a result, the tripartite negotiations that started in November last year in Washington came to a halt. In the meantime, the dam is more than 70 per cent built.
Ethiopia wants to fill the dam within three years, allowing it to generate power for domestic consumption and export. Since the filling of the dam will reduce flows downstream, Cairo wants the process extended to as long as 15 years to minimise the reduction in flow to Egypt during the fill.
According to a former diplomat who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, it was “very important” that Egyptian diplomacy use the time to explain to the world the impact of the latest developments on Egypt and the region.
Now, explained the diplomat, Egypt is using all diplomatic means to break the present deadlock in the negotiations. “The US should also push for signing the agreement that was reached after four months of discussions between the technical teams of the three countries,” he said.
Hegazi agreed that the Washington agreement should be the basis for resolving the present situation. “Whatever Ethiopia needs to put on the table should be presented in Washington. If not, the international community should carry out its responsibility and move to contain the situation that could harm Egypt and the whole region,” he said.
March witnessed several diplomatic initiatives on the part of Egypt to clarify to the world the present situation concerning the stalled tripartite negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri delivered messages from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the leaders of Burundi, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger.
“Shoukri's tour included South Africa, the current president of the African Union as well as some Nile Basin countries in the hope that they will be able to convince Ethiopia to sign the final agreement on the filling and operations of the dam,” the diplomat said.
The tour came a few days after his two-legged European tour that included Belgium and France.
Shoukri called on the EU to urge Ethiopia to sign the agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD in order to preserve security and stability in the Horn of Africa.
Shortly before his European tour, Shoukri visited several Arab countries to update them on the current situation.
During his tours, Shoukri also sought to explain what happened during negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan that started in March 2015 after the signing of the Agreement on Declaration of Principles as well as the consequences and repercussions that may result from any unilateral Ethiopian decision to fill the GERD without signing the agreement with Egypt and Sudan.
Meanwhile, a delegation from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, headed by Assistant Minister for African Affairs Ambassador Abu Bakr Hefni visited Somalia and Djibouti last week to brief their leaders about the latest development on the Renaissance Dam.
Another delegation headed by Assistant Minister for Arab Affairs Yasser Othman visited Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania for the same purpose.
Last week, President Al-Sisi discussed the dam with Deputy Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo during his two-day visit Cairo.
Dagalo said Khartoum will be a mediator between Egypt and Ethiopia in the hope of bridging their differences. No more details were disclosed.
The US and the World Bank were brought into the dam talks after Al-Sisi last year called on the international community to help find a solution to the long-running dispute.
Several rounds of talks were held in the presence of officials from the US Treasury Department and the World Bank as observers.
The US had set mid-January as the deadline for reaching an agreement.
The deadline was later extended to the end of February, but in the last round of talks Addis Ababa failed to attend.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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