The two countries are suspending tripartite negotiations with Ethiopia over its multi-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile for more internal consultations on a new draft of filling guidelines.
Egypt and Sudan have suspended talks with Ethiopia after it proposed linking a deal on its newly constructed reservoir and giant hydroelectric dam to a broader agreement about the Blue Nile waters that would replace a colonial-era accord with Britain.
The African Union-led talks among the three key Nile basin countries are trying to resolve a years-long dispute over Ethiopia's construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Sharing Nile waters
Ethiopia says the dam will provide electricity to millions of its nearly 110 million citizens, while Egypt, with its own booming population of about 100 million, sees the project as an existential threat that could deprive it of its share of the Nile waters.
The confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum forms the Nile River that flows the length of Egypt.
A colonial-era deal between Ethiopia and Britain effectively prevents upstream countries from taking any action –– such as building dams and filling reservoirs –– that would reduce the share of the Nile’s water, which the deal gave downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.
The Blue Nile is the source of as much as 85 percent of the Nile River water.
Egypt and Sudan objections
Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said Ethiopia's proposal on Tuesday threatened the entire negotiations, which had just resumed through online conferencing on Monday.
Sudan and Egypt object to Ethiopia's filling of the reservoir on the dam without a deal among the three nations.
On Monday, the three agreed that technical and legal teams would continue their talks on disputed points, including how much water Ethiopia would release downstream in case of a major drought.
Abbas said he received a letter from his Ethiopian counterpart who proposed "the deal under discussion be limited to filling up the dam and any deal concerning its management be linked to the question of sharing Blue Nile waters".
“Sudan will not accept that lives of 20 million of its people who live on the banks of the Blue Nile depend on a treaty,” he said. He said Sudan would not take part in talks that link a deal on the dam to a deal on the Blue Nile.
With the rainy season, which started last month, bringing more water to the Blue Nile, Ethiopia wants to fill the reservoir as soon as possible.
The negotiation on #GERD is continuing. Ethiopia would like to sign the first filling agreement at the soonest and also continue negotiation to finalize a comprehensive agreement in subsequent periods https://t.co/XSwBOqVbIS— Seleshi Bekele (@seleshi_b_a) August 4, 2020
Egypt and Sudan invoke a "historic right" over the river guaranteed by treaties concluded in 1929 and 1959.
Ethiopia’s irrigation ministry said on Wednesday the proposal was “in line” with the outcome of an African Union summit in July and Monday's meeting of the irrigation ministers. It said the talks are expected to reconvene on August 10, as proposed by Egypt.
Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele tweeted on Tuesday that his country would like to sign the first filling agreement as soon as possible and “also continue negotiation to finalise a comprehensive agreement in subsequent periods”.
The issue of Ethiopia's dam also threatens to escalate into a full-blown regional conflict as years of talks with a variety of mediators, including the US, have failed to produce a solution.