Essam Sharaf, left, is heading a seven-minister delegation to Khartoum [EPA]

Cairo will recognise South Sudan as an independent state, Nabil Elaraby, the Egyptian foreign minister, has said during a visit to Khartoum.

Elaraby is in the Sudanese capital as part of a visiting Egyptian delegation, headed by Essam Sharaf, the prime minister. The visit to Sudan is Sharaf’s first abroad since taking office in the wake of Egypt’s uprising that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

"Sudan intends to be the first to recognise Juba (capital of South Sudan) and Egypt intends to be the second to recognise the south," Elaraby said on Sunday, two months after the region voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to secede from Khartoum.

Elaraby also said Egypt would introduce a new proposal to Nile Basin nations to try to overcome a stalemate on sharing the river's waters.

South Sudan has not declared a position on sharing Nile waters but most analysts believe it is likely to side with its east African allies.

They have signed a new treaty aimed at ensuring what they say would be a more equitable distribution of the water, worrying Egypt which is struggling to grow food for its burgeoning population.

"We will be offering a new proposal to the Nile Basin states ... and we hope to find a solution which will not harm any nation," Hussein Ehsan el-Atfi, Egypt's water resources and irrigation minister, told reporters in Khartoum.

He did not go into details but Magdy Rady, the Egyptian government spokesman, said an unfinished and long-stalled project to create the Jonglei Canal in South Sudan, which would channel swamp water back into the Nile, would be discussed in Juba.

"This is still a project - we spent a lot of money on it and there's still a little money left to finish it. This project - if we finish it - it will provide 4 billion extra [litres of water a year]," he said.

 "This will be divided between Egypt and south Sudan - if they are not in urgent need of it, we are in urgent need of it."

Source: Agencies