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Dam diplomacy continues
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 02 - 2018

“People should be reassured. None of the three countries — Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia — will be harmed,” President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said after the tripartite meeting held in Addis Ababa on Monday on the projected Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) within the framework of this week's Africa Union (AU) Summit.
“There is no crisis between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The interests of the three states are as one,” he said.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attended the meeting held on the sidelines of the 30th AU Summit, an opportunity for member states to enhance bilateral and multilateral relations and for a tripartite meeting over the dam.
“This is a very positive step and good news for the governments and peoples of the three countries,” former assistant to Egypt's foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi said.
“It is a clear message sent by the three leaders. Summit diplomacy was necessary as it has contributed to easing the tensions raised after the blockage of the technical negotiations on the dam,” he said.
The three leaders agreed to resolve all pending technical issues on the GERD within a month, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said in a statement after the meeting.
Although he did not mention any details, he underlined that there would be no mediation on the tripartite negotiations, which means that Ethiopia and Sudan had rejected Egypt's suggestion to involve the World Bank.
In the hope of breaking the impasse regarding the work of the Tripartite Technical Committee on the GERD, Shoukri had proposed the involvement of the World Bank as an impartial third party in a meeting with his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu in Addis Ababa in December.
He submitted the same initiative to Sudan a few days later. The World Bank initiated the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in 1999 on the management of the Nile's water, and thus has ample experience in this regard.
The tripartite meeting between Al-Sisi, Al-Bashir and Desalegn was the last in a series of recent meetings aiming to ease the deadlock on the technical track of the tripartite negotiations on the GERD, according to Hegazi.
The meeting of Al-Sisi and Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the AU Summit and of Al-Sisi and Desalegn in Cairo last month had paved the way to a breakthrough. During their meeting Al-Sisi and Al-Bashir agreed to form a joint ministerial committee to deal with bilateral issues and challenges.
The meeting came two days after Shoukri's meeting with his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Al-Ghandour during the AU Summit. This aimed to emphasise the deep and historic relations that bound the two states and their keenness to put relations back on their normal track, said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.
Relations between Cairo and Khartoum have been strained because of Sudan's claim of sovereignty over the Halayeb Triangle region, which is Egyptian territory. The blockage in the tripartite negotiations, declared after the failure of the 17th round of meetings held in Cairo in November, added to the tensions.
However, they reached a climax when Sudan recalled its ambassador to Egypt, Abdel-Mahmoud Abdel-Halim, for consultations last month without stating a reason.
Shoukri explained that Cairo had been notified that the Sudanese ambassador's withdrawal had to do with the dispute over the sovereignty of the Halayeb Triangle. A few days after withdrawing its ambassador, Sudan renewed a complaint to the UN Security Council demanding that Cairo hand over control of the Halayeb region.
Shoukri stated in an interview this week that Abdel-Halim would return to Egypt soon, which will be a sign that bilateral relations are heading back to their normal track.
The 30th AU Summit Meeting was held from 22 to 29 January in Addis Ababa under the theme “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa's Transformation.”
“The issue of corruption has been gaining importance in many African countries that aim to address the problem in order to realise the aspirations of their people to live in prosperity and dignity,” Hegazi said.
The issue of terrorism, which presents a challenge to all African states and requires collective strategies to combat it, was given prominence at the AU Summit. Last month, Al-Sisi chaired a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) that discussed a “comprehensive approach to combating the threat of terrorism in Africa”.
Egypt headed the PSC in January, and its recent winning of the presidency of the AU is another vote of confidence, according to Hegazi.
“The fact that Egypt was heading the PSC adds to its other achievements, like its two-year non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, indicating that Egypt is a reliable international and regional partner that enjoys respect and credibility,” he explained.
During the AU Summit, the African leaders voted for Cairo's presidency of the bloc in 2019.
AU meetings have long provided a chance for bilateral meetings of African leaders in order to boost bilateral as well as multilateral relations between member states. In January's meeting, Al-Sisi met Angola's new president, João Lourenço, to discuss boosting bilateral ties as well as the latest developments in Africa and the region.
On the sidelines of the summit Shoukri also held a series of meeting with African counterparts, including the foreign ministers of Ghana, Mali, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya and Malawi.

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