Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Gheit was feeling positive about talks held in Addis Ababa between Ethiopian officials and himself and Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Abul Naga.
The talks focused on the allocation of the waters of the Nile, among other bilateral issues. According to Abul Gheit, the discussion, “filled in a lot of details and allowed each side to gain a greater appreciation for the other’s position.”
Speaking on Egyptian television, he said, “[Nile water sharing] is a long term issue and we will continue discussions to build a common basis for understanding. However, this doesn’t mean that bilateral relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have to suffer. We will continue to strengthen all dimensions of this relationship, particularly when it comes to economic and commercial matters.”
The Minister pointed to the importance of development projects for all the people of the Nile Basin states, especially in light of Ethiopia’s affirmation of Egypt’s right to the Nile waters.
He said that Ethiopia wanted to use the waters of the Nile for electricity-generating projects that would benefit all the basin sates. Such projects would not affect the flow of water in the river, as long as they were implemented within the framework of a joint cooperation plan between the Eastern basin states (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia).
According to Abul Gheit, his visit revealed a narrowing of the gap between the two countries’ positions towards regional issues and particularly towards recent developments in Sudan.
The talks come in the wake of disagreements in recent months between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and the Nile’s upstream states on the other, over attempts by the latter to reallocate the Nile waters to their own advantage. In particular, tensions flared after Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya signed a preliminary framework agreement to redistribute the
Nile waters earlier this year without consultation with Egypt or Sudan.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, in an interview with Abdel Latif el-Manawi aired on Egyptian television on Wednesday evening, stressed that the only solution to the Nile water sharing issue was one that satisfied all parties and took into account their interests without prejudice against any faction. He noted that all parties could meet their needs from Nile water if irrigation efficiency was increased by ten percent.
Zenawi stated that Egyptian-Ethiopian relations were strong and rooted in a long history of cooperation, adding, “nothing can come between the two countries.” He went on to say that the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia is like a marriage in which divorce is unthinkable, indicating that while at times the relationship may be beset by tension, it is always strong.
The Prime Minister said that Ethiopia’s signature on the proposed framework agreement could be read in more than one way. It represents the desire of the upstream states of the Nile Basin to reach a mutually agreeable solution, while at the same time it points to the upstream states’ dissatisfaction over the current status quo which has been in place since the international agreements of 1929 and 1959. These agreements grant Egypt and Sudan full use of the Nile waters.
When asked if upstream states meant to charge Egypt and Sudan for water usage, Zenawi stated, “Ethiopia has never considered selling water to anyone. The Nile waters have flowed from Ethiopia to Egypt for millions of years, and we want to use a part of those waters. We won’t sell the water to anyone even if we don’t need it, and we won’t ever ask Egypt to buy it.”
Zenawi indicated that certain “wise” Egyptian politicians supported the construction of dams in Ethiopia, while others were completely opposed to such dams and had even requested other states to not finance their construction.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.