The Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas said on Tuesday that although he expects negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to resume soon in Washington, DC, he has ruled out the possibility that the government of Sudan will play the role of intermediary with regard to the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the filling and operations of the dam.
Abbas explained that since Sudan is a party to the negotiations, and participating in order to preserve its interests, it cannot possibly be neutral or act as a mediator between the other two parties.
In response to questions posed by reporters via WhatsApp on Tuesday evening, the minister said that negotiations between the three countries “will resume soon.” He also said that his government hopes to reach an agreement on filling the dam.
Abbas explained that the talks held recently between Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the US administration, as well as the prime minister’s anticipated visits to Cairo and Ethiopia, are all aimed at encouraging all parties to resume negotiations as soon as possible.
Hamdok’s visits were delayed due to the restrictions imposed on travel over the coronavirus outbreak, he added.
The negotiations in Washington did not collapse, but were suspended at the request of Ethiopia to provide an opportunity for internal consultations, Abbas said.
Hamdok said on March 30 that he would visit Egypt and Ethiopia soon to resume negotiations over the dam, making the announcement during a phone call with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Hamdok agreed with the American officials that the negotiation process in Washington had made great progress, and the two sides agreed on the need to continue negotiating after the world overcomes the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew reportedly commented in March that his country is preparing a solution to its dispute with Egypt over the GERD and will submit it to Egypt and Sudan as soon as possible.
He said that Ethiopia is committed to resolving the GERD dispute and demanded that discussions must be “fair” and “serious” in order for Ethiopia to return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the United States.
Earlier in March, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met in Cairo with the Deputy Head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo.
During the meeting, they reviewed the latest developments related to the contentious dam, in light of an agreement reached in Washington earlier this year and signed only by Egypt.
Egypt took part in the latest GERD meeting in Washington on February 27 and 28, which produced a final agreement regarding filling and operating the GERD.
Representatives from Addis Ababa were noticeably absent from the meeting, and only Egypt has signed the agreement so far. Sudan has also abstained from signing the agreement to fill and operate the GERD.
Ethiopia has also warned that it would begin filling the dam in July without signing an agreement. Construction is not due to be finished until 2023.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry and its Ministry of Water Resources have rejected Ethiopia’s plan to fill the reservoir of the GERD before construction work is finished, and regardless of whether an agreement has been reached with downstream countries.
Egypt relies considerably on fresh water from the Nile and has voiced concerns that the GERD would negatively impact the country’s water supply, especially in light of fears of overpopulation, and has thus insisted throughout negotiations that measures be put in place to protect downstream countries in case of drought during the filling process at the dam.