WHITE HOUSE – The Trump administration has concluded two days of what was supposed to be the final round of talks on the Grand Ethiopian Dam without reaching a deal and without the presence of Ethiopia after that country said Wednesday that it is walking away from negotiations on the project.
Addis Ababa and Cairo have been at odds in a water war on the issue of the filling and operation of the giant Ethiopian dam that Egypt worries could threaten its supply of water from the Nile.
Instead of meeting with the three countries involved in the conflict, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, host of the negotiations, participated in bilateral meetings with ministers of foreign affairs and ministers of water resources of Egypt and Sudan.
According to a Treasury statement late Friday, the United States “facilitated the preparation of an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) based on provisions proposed by the legal and technical teams of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and with the technical input of the World Bank.”
“The United States believes that the work completed over the last four months has resulted in an agreement that addresses all issues in a balanced and equitable manner, taking into account the interests of the three countries,” the statement said, adding that the final testing and filling of the dam “should not take place without an agreement.”
The statement noted “the readiness of the government of Egypt to sign the agreement” and recognized that “Ethiopia continues its national consultations.”
On Wednesday Ethiopia said it would not participate in the latest rounds of negotiations. The country’s ambassador to the United States, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter that, “Ethiopia will not sign any agreement that gives up its rights on how to use its own Nile water.”
A second statement by Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Ministry, published by Ethiopia’s state-owned media, said it would not take part in this week’s meetings because it has not completed internal consultations.
“They aren’t really talks without Ethiopia,” said Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
Sources tell VOA that Ethiopia has been urging Mnuchin since Feb. 13 to postpone the talks, as well as remind the U.S. of its “neutral observer status.” Mnuchin responded that the U.S. will continue talks as planned.
Mnuchin also disputed Ethiopia’s characterization of his role, saying that the observer status the U.S. agreed to is limited to regional technical negotiations and does not include Washington talks.
Despite the setback, the process may not be entirely lost.
Ethiopia is calling this a postponement, said William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“They’re not suggesting that the meeting has been canceled forever, but only that they need more time to prepare for it,” he said.