North Africa: Arab Foreign Ministers Meet in Qatar to Discuss Nile Dam Conflict

Cairo — Arab League foreign ministers met Tuesday in Qatar, focusing on efforts to resolve the Nile River dam conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt's Foreign Minister said Cairo is seeking a diplomatic, not a military, solution to its dispute with Ethiopia over the filling of the dam, set to begin next month.

Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdel Rahman bin Jassem al Thani talked to journalists Tuesday after Arab League foreign ministers met in Doha.

They said the group is calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the water dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The league is trying to prevent a conflict when Ethiopia begins to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam again next month despite the absence of a water-use agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

Mediation efforts by the African Union have not made any tangible progress and both Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that their national security will be adversely affected if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the dam.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Arab media Monday that Cairo is still trying to exhaust all diplomatic channels with Ethiopia before resorting to other means.

He said Egypt is trying to reach a solution within the current negotiating framework, but if it fails and there is damage or a threat to the lives of Egyptians or Sudanese, then both countries have a responsibility to defend and protect their people.

Sudan's Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told a press conference Monday in Khartoum his country would approve the filling of the dam if Ethiopia enters into a binding agreement with both Sudan and Egypt.

He said Sudan is ready to accept a step-by-step agreement with Ethiopia if it will sign an accord including everything that has been agreed upon until now, including a guarantee that negotiations will continue within a finite period of time.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who repeatedly has insisted the filling of the dam will continue, as scheduled, at the start of July, said recently his country was not trying to use the dam to pressure its neighbors.

He said the dam is a sign of Ethiopia's independence and through it, "we affirm that we have no behind-the-scenes colonialist project to use against our neighbors." He added that Ethiopia is a "proud, independent country, and will continue to be so, forever."

Egyptian political analyst Said Sadek told VOA that Ethiopia's ruling party has been using the dam negotiations for "internal political considerations," including uniting disparate ethnic factions within the country and rallying support ahead of upcoming elections.

He also believes Egyptian leaders will exhaust diplomatic means before taking more forceful action.

"Egypt is hesitant to jump into a war before fulfilling all the diplomatic channels so that anything that is done, at least we have legitimate international coverage, or we went through the channels of solving international problems peacefully and we failed," Sadek said.

Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, told VOA, "This is a very delicate and treacherous moment for negotiations," and the situation could become "inflamed" if Ethiopia tries to fill the dam too quickly, causing water shortages in Egypt and Sudan.

"The situation is coming to a head, and what happens in the next few weeks could determine a lot," he added.

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