Ethiopia accuses US of preferring Nile Dam talks with Egypt

Ethiopia on Tuesday accused the United States of being ‘undiplomatic’ in its role facilitating talks between three countries on the Nile River over a giant dam.

Ethiopia’s remarks which included a commitment to continue massive negotiations comes amidst reports that U.S. president Donald Trump called his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledging his support.

The US has been enabling talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa.

The $4 billion project has set Addis Ababa and Egypt at loggerheads since Ethiopia broke ground in 2011, Cairo worried that filling a huge reservoir too quickly could staunch the Nile’s flow lower down.

The biggest worry for Egypt is the filling of the dam’s gigantic reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic metres of water.

The US Treasury Department said on Friday that “final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement”, a position endorsed by Sudan.

The statement implied that if Ethiopia starts filling the dam before a deal is reached “it would breach an international legal principle not to cause significant harm to downstream nations”, said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation.

“While Ethiopia disagrees with this and has cause to be concerned, it is not clear if the US has any intention to enforce this position, and it is more likely that negotiations continue in one form or another,” Davison said.

Gedu said Ethiopia felt singled out in the US statement and urged Washington to stay neutral.

“If the Americans apply pressure it should be on all parties, not just our side,” he said.

Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, told AFP after the press conference that the US statement “must be corrected”.

He added that Ethiopia could start filling the reservoir when the next rainy season begins in June.