The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

17 May 2014

Ethiopia: U.S. Urges Ethiopia, Egypt to Resume GERD Negotiations

United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the government of the United States pays high attention to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which Egypt is campaigning against to halt its construction.

The Secretary admitted that the US government held "intensive discussions with both sides" and urged them to work out their differences.

During an online press conference held last Wednesday focusing on US commitment to sub-Saharan Africa, the Assistant Secretary of State discussed with various African journalists issues ranging from Secretary John Kerry's recent trip to Africa to issues revolving around the upcoming Africa Leadership Summit.

Among some of the questions that the Assistant Secretary addressed, was that the administration in Washington was "concerned" because of the trade-offs between the Ethiopian and Egyptian governments regarding the GERD. "We had made intensive discussions with both sides on this issue," she said. "And our position is, they need to talk, they need to communicate; they need to work out their differences," Thomas-Greenfield explained.

The tripartite negotiation between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt that was supposedly expected to implement the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) on the dam was suspended after the first two sides failed to narrow their differences, and consequently trade-offs continued.

The secretary urged that the two countries needed to resume negotiations immediately for mutual benefit. "We knew that some talks had taken place and we encourage them to continue to have more talks so that they can find a solution that benefits both sides," Thomas-Greenfield said. This is the first time in a three-year period that the American government has expressed concern over the increasingly deteriorating relationships between the two parties, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Located west of Addis Ababa in the Metekel Zone, Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, 42 km from the Ethio-Sudan border, the GERD is one of biggest hydropower dams projects in Africa.

Messed up by internal political instability, Egypt's media and the leadership have repeatedly voiced concerns against the dam, for fear that after completion of the dam, it would decrease the volume of the water it had been receiving from the Nile, which it considered "an inherent right to exclusive use" of the Nile.

Finally, the leadership threatened to resort to the use of military force as a final measure to halt the construction. The Ethiopian government, however, insisted on its right to develop its natural resources and believed that the dam would never significantly affect the water share of the downstream countries.

The video conference that brought several world journalists together - through the facilitation of US embassies across the continent - was also an opportunity for Thomas-Greenfield to respond to several other questions on US foreign policy towards sub-Saharan Africa and current affairs that were directly forwarded to her. On the upcoming African Leadership Summit expected to take place in Washington in August, she listed African countries with sanctions, including Eritrea, Zimbabwe, the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC,) which were banned from participating.

On the current South Sudan conflict, the secretary denied an allegation that President Salva Kiir was forced by Hailemariam Desalegn, PM of Ethiopia, to sign the agreement. She urged the immediate implementation of the agreement, warning the two leaders would face United Nations Security Council and US sanctions.

During the online discussion, the Assistant Secretary also reaffirmed her government's commitment to Africa, particularly to help find the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and said that the US government would "continue closely working with" AMISOM to extripate Al-Shabab from Somalia.

Regarding the imprisoned journalists and bloggers, Thomas-Greenfield said, "We did raise this with the government; we want the government to release these individuals who were arrested. If there are investigations that are taking place, we encourage them to speed those investigations up so that these journalists can be given due process. We believe that political space should be open and press freedom is supported so that Ethiopia can continue to provide an atmosphere that allows all of its people to participate and all of its people to be part of the progress that is taking place," Thomas-Greenfield concluded.

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