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24.10.2019 Egypt

Egypt, Ethiopia leaders discuss controversial Nile dam

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is set to be Africa's largest when it is completed.  By ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 24, 2019
Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is set to be Africa's largest when it is completed. By ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER (AFP/File)

Ethiopia and Egypt's leaders met on the sidelines of Russia's Africa summit on Thursday to discuss a contentious dam project on the River Nile, a diplomat said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi "delivered a message" to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Addis Ababa's soon-to-be-finished mega-project on the Blue Nile, the Egyptian diplomat said.

The meeting lasted around 45 minutes and took place "in a positive atmosphere," the source added, without providing details.

Cairo and Addis Ababa are sharply at odds over the giant dam's operation and the filling of its reservoir.

Egypt, which lies downstream from Ethiopia, fears that the building of the $4 billion dam will stem the flow of the Nile, from which it draws 90 percent of its water supply.

Ethiopia says it the gigantic hydroelectric dam is necessary to provide much-needed electricity, and insists that the onward flow of water will not be affected.

Discussions between the two countries and with Sudan, through which the river also passes, have been in stalemate for nine years.

Tensions soared between Cairo and Addis Ababa after the latest round of talks ended earlier this month without reaching a deal.

Cairo has sought international mediation to break what it called the "deadlock", but Addis Ababa rejected the mediation and called Egypt's claims "unwarranted denial of the progress" made during the negotiations.

On Thursday, the Egyptian presidency said the two leaders had agreed that an independent technical committee seeking an agreement on the dam's operation would immediately press on with its work.

Egypt said Tuesday it had accepted a US invitation to hold talks with Sudan and Ethiopia in Washington, but neither Addis Ababa nor Khartoum had publicly responded.

Russia, which is hosting a two-day Africa Summit in its Black Sea resort of Sochi in an attempt to revive its Soviet-era influence on the continent, has said it is ready to play a role in resolving the conflict.

"The dam... was discussed during (Russian President Vladimir Putin's) meeting with the President of Egypt, and during a meeting with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Putin offered his "assistance" and told the two leaders they should take advantage of their presence in Sochi to "directly discuss (their) concerns", Peskov said.

Analysts fear the three Nile basin countries could be drawn into a conflict if the dispute is not resolved before the dam goes into operation late next year.

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