Public delegation to build Ethiopia-Egypt trust: Foreign Minister

ADDIS ABABA (AA) – Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom has said that an Ethiopian “public diplomacy” delegation currently visiting Cairo aimed to build trust and enhance people-to-people ties between Ethiopia and Egypt.

“The delegation is the first of its kind and [aims] to further strengthen the good relations fostered since last June following a meeting of the two countries’ leaders,” Adhanom told The Anadolu Agency.

The 70-strong delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday as part of efforts to improve ties between Ethiopia and Egypt following recent tension over a controversial dam being built by Addis Ababa on the upper reaches of the Nile River.

Adhanom said delegation members would meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the representatives of various segments of Egyptian society.

“It will be a good opportunity to express Ethiopia’s belief in common development and narrow the gap [with Egypt] created due to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” he said.

The delegation is expected to meet several Egyptian officials and religious leaders – including Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II – and attend activities marking the 15th anniversary of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

The delegation will also meet members of an Egyptian public diplomacy delegation who visited Ethiopia in 2012, along with members of the Ethiopian-Egyptian business council.

“Ethiopia’s position is to work together to ensure mutual benefits and to speed up development, and, currently, we can observe a similar stand on the Egyptian side,” Adhanom said.

Parliament Speaker Abadula Gemeda, who is leading the Ethiopian delegation, described the visit as a “step forward” on the road to improving bilateral relations.

“The delegation represents the Ethiopian people, as members are drawn from different segments of society and political parties,” he told AA ahead of his flight to Cairo.

Gemeda said the visit was similar to the one conducted by the Egyptian public diplomacy delegation in 2012, which, he stressed, “helped us become aware of the perception of not only the then-government of Egypt, but also the public with regard to Ethiopia and its people.”

Ethiopia and Egypt are in the middle of a diplomatic rapprochement following earlier differences over Ethiopia’s construction of a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam on the Nile.

The two countries agreed to resume tripartite talks – which also include downstream country Sudan – after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and al-Sisi met in Equatorial Guinea in June.

Meetings of a tripartite technical committee, set up in 2011, resumed in August after an eight-month hiatus due to ongoing differences between Cairo and Addis Ababa.

In September, the tripartite committee decided to commission research firms to study the dam’s anticipated trans-boundary and environmental impact.

Egypt fears the Ethiopian dam could affect its traditional share of Nile water, which has long been determined by a colonial-era water-sharing treaty that Addis Ababa has never recognized.

Ethiopia, for its part, insists the project won’t affect Egypt’s water supply.

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