Negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, in long-running dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile, reach new impasse, participants say.

A satellite image shows an overview of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia, on June 26, 2020.
A satellite image shows an overview of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia, on June 26, 2020. (Reuters)

Negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, in a long-running dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, have reached a new impasse.

"We cannot continue this vicious cycle of circular talks indefinitely," Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas said in a statement on Sunday. 

However, Egypt and Ethiopia, in separate statements, blamed Sudanese objections to the framework for the talks for the new impasse.

The Sudan News Agency said that Naledi Pandor, foreign minister of South Africa which chairs the African Union, voiced her "regret that the talks reached a dead end."

Sudan's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas (R) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Omar Gamar al Din, are pictured during a video conference meeting with their Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts, in the capital Khartoum on January 10, 2020.
Sudan's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas (R) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Omar Gamar al Din, are pictured during a video conference meeting with their Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts, in the capital Khartoum on January 10, 2020. (AFP)

Diverging aims 

Ethiopia sees the dam as key to plans to become Africa's largest power exporter.

Egypt, which gets more than 90 percent of its scarce fresh water from the Nile, fears the dam could devastate its economy.

Sudan said it was concerned the dam could overwhelm its nearby Roseires dam if an agreement is not reached that would allow the countries to share data.

Ethiopia said in a statement that despite previously insisting on meetings with the African Union experts, Sudan objected to their terms of reference and refused to include the experts in the meeting, effectively halting the talks.

Last week, the three countries had agreed to hold further talks to agree the filling and operation of the vast reservoir behind the 145-metre tall GERD. 

READ MORE: Ethiopia denies reports it has started filling dam

African Union mediation 

The prolonged dispute between the three countries has continued even after the reservoir behind the $4 billion dam began filling in July.

"Sudan insisted on the assigning of African Union experts to offer solutions to contentious issues ... a proposal which Egypt and Ethiopia have reservations about," Egypt's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted to social media.

In its own statement on state news agency SUNA, Sudan said it objected to what it said was a January 8 letter from Ethiopia to the African Union stating that Ethiopia was determined to fill the reservoir for the second year in July with 13.5 million cubic metres of water, whether an agreement is reached or not.

In its own statement posted on the social media of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia said it "took the initiative immediately to establish an effective and reciprocal data exchange mechanism." 

READ MORE: ‘Tired of Begging’: Developments in the Nile Dam Dispute

READ MORE: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to restart talks over disputed Nile dam project

Tense ties 

Relations between Addis Ababa and Khartoum have deteriorated in recent weeks, with clashes reported along their frontier on the sidelines of an Ethiopian military operation in the Tigray region, bordering Sudan.

Ethiopia, which has said it reached its first-year target for filling the dam's reservoir, has recently signalled it would proceed with the filling regardless of whether a deal was concluded.

The Nile, the world's longest river, is a lifeline supplying both water and electricity to the 10 countries it traverses.

Its main tributaries, the White and Blue Nile, converge in the Sudanese capital Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.

Source: Reuters