By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed an agreement Tuesday regarding the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) highlighting the importance of the declaration of principles signed by the three countries on March 23, 2015.
As far as Ahram Online is concerned, what the above means is: “Egypt’s irrigation minister has said that the Khartoum agreement that was reached on Tuesday between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on the Grand Renaissance Dam stipulates that no country is allowed to undertake unilateral action until technical studies have finished next October.”
In other words, Ethiopia that has been saying nothing would stop the construction of the dam, even for a day, must now wait for the outcome of the technical studies before it proceeds to filling the dam with water to start generating electricity by late 2016 or mid-2017.
The technical studies will start in February, when the six ministers are due to meet again, and will take between six and 15 months, Sudanese Water Resources, Irrigation, and Electricity Minister Moataz Mousa is quoted stating.
Signatories also pledged to protect the interests of downstream countries when the dam’s reservoir is filled.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the new agreement addressed the main concerns of the three countries, including the concerns of the Egyptian people.
It is assumed this latest agreement reverses the concern by Egypt caused by Ethiopia’s announcement on December 27 that “it began the diversion of the Blue Nile, which was perceived by some experts as a sign that it will complete the construction of the dam regardless of the current meetings.”
The announcement underlined: “በአሁኑ ጊዜም የአራቱ ቱቦዎች ግንባታ ሙሉ በሙሉ የተጠናቀቀ ሲሆን፥ የአባይ ወንዝም የቀድሞው የጉዞ አቅጣጫውን ለቆ ግንባታቸው በተጠናቀቁ ቱቦዎች ውስጥ እንዲሆን ተደርጓል።” [“The Nile waters would henceforth course through the four tunnels just completed.”]
Shoukry said signing the “Al-Khatoum Document” was a result of the “trust and transparency” between the three states during negotiations. The document also confirms that all the technical studies must be carried out within the next eight months.
Both Ethiopia and Sudan dealt with the situation with the same trust and commitment, according to Shoukry.
Meanwhile, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said the document includes all the issues of importance for the three countries and that each legal document signed is binding.
Foreign Minister Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zaid told local media that the agreement addresses the technical aspects of the dam since the three sides agreed to appoint a new French company, Arterlia, to conduct the technical studies alongside another French company, BRL group.
The agreement also addressed ways to enforce and execute the declaration of principles singed by the presidents of the three countries last March.
This declaration emphasised the principles of cooperation, development, regional integration and sustainability, mitigating significant damage, exchanging information, and building trust. The three countries confirmed their commitments to these principles.
However, Abu Zaid said this agreement is not the end of the negotiations and the three delegations agreed to hold further meetings to build more trust. “The situation today is better than before,” he told a local TV channel.
Advisor to the Minister of Irrigation Alaa Yassin told local media the three countries agreed to hold a meeting for the technical delegations on 3 and 4 January. Ethiopia will organise a field visit for both Egyptian and Sudanese officials to build trust.
The next meeting will be held in the first week of February to continue the joint work.
The Egyptian technical delegation, headed by Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Hossam Al-Moghazy, left the negotiations early in Khartoum between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan without reaching any agreements.
Abu Zaid said the delegation left early to Cairo to attend the launch of the million acre project in the Farafra Oasis. The departure of the minister does not signify his withdrawal from the negotiations.
A new round of talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia started Tuesday after two weeks of postponing to settle the disagreements over the construction of GERD. The current round of talks followed up on discussions that began earlier in December but failed to reach a common agreement. The representatives of the three countries agreed Monday to hold another meeting in two weeks to resolve disagreements and reach a solution.
Ethiopia has also reportedly agreed to hold a technical meeting next week to discuss the Egyptian suggestion of increasing the number of gates of GERD to ensure a rise in the amount of water passing downstream.
On Saturday, Ethiopia announced it began the diversion of the Blue Nile, which was perceived by some experts as a sign that it will complete the construction of the dam regardless of the current meetings.
However, Al-Moghazy denied its link to GERD’s technical details and said it was a “normal step”. “Egypt is trying to build on the steps previously taken and preserve the declaration of principles between the three countries,” Shoukry said during the meeting Monday.
The main point of debate was Ethiopia’s plans to store water inside the dam over the next five years, which it claims will not affect the other two countries. However, Egypt has been pushing for delays of this move until the technical studies on the dam’s effects on downstream countries were completed.
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