NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — After years of fruitless talks, Ethiopia and Egypt said Thursday they aim to finalize an agreement on operations for Africa’s largest dam within four months, an apparent breakthrough in a dispute that Cairo described as an existential threat.
The joint statement on “accelerated negotiations”, released by the Ethiopian government, came after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discussed the dam with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on the sidelines of a regional meeting on the conflict in neighboring Sudan.
Sudan is a third party in talks on the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Ethiopia’s stretch of the Blue Nile, located just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Sudanese border.
Egypt depends on the Nile to supply fresh water to its burgeoning population of 100 million, while Ethiopia says the dam is helping lift millions of its 110 million citizens out of poverty. Tensions increased as the dam’s reservoir began to fill every year for the past few years.
The new statement does not describe the planned agreement as a legally binding agreement, which Egypt and Sudan have demanded. It also does not say whether the talks will take place under the auspices of the African Union, which Ethiopia preferred. The United States has been among a variety of mediators in the past.
In a separate statement, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat praised the Ethiopian and Egyptian leaders for their “joint decision” to relaunch negotiations on the dam.
Key issues in the talks have been how the countries will resolve future disputes around the dam and how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs.