The Egyptian and Ethiopian leaders have met for the first time to discuss tensions over Ethiopia’s construction of a huge hydropower dam on the river Nile but the meeting ended without any agreement, sources said.
The Egyptian interim president, Adly Mansour, and Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, met on Tuesday on the sidelines of an Afro-Arab Summit in Kuwait, sources familiar with the meeting told Al Jazeera.
It was the first meeting between leaders of the two countries over the Grand Renaissance Dam since the deposed Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, met Hailemariam in May.
Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile in May to build what will be Africa’s largest dam when it is finished in 2017. Thirty percent of its construction has already been completed, according to Ethiopia. The hydropower station will have a 6,000-megawatt capacity when finished.
|Hailemariam and Mansour met on the summit sidelines [Al Jazeera]|
Egypt, almost totally dependent on the river, fears the dam could diminish its water supply. Ethiopia, which hopes the hydropower dam will boost its economy through power exports, has said there will be no major impact.
The sources said the Egyptian side had requested the meeting to “negotiate” over the project but that nothing was agreed.
Hailemariam, a source said, rejected a request from Mansour that he be involved in discussons about the project.
Colonial-era treaties negotiated by the British gave Egypt and Sudan a majority share of Nile waters. Seven other countries through which the river flows argue the agreements were unjust and need to be torn up.
Egypt’s only current recourse lies with a panel of 10 experts from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries who have been reviewing the social and environmental impact of the dam.
The panel has issued a report about the project’s potential impact on water levels, which has not yet been made public.
At a one-day meeting in the Sudanese capital Khartoum this month the water ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to form a panel to implement the expert recommendations.
But Egyptian objections about the composition of the committee have been delaying its formation, Ethiopia’s water minister has said.
A second round of negotiations is scheduled for Khartoum on December 8.
Egypt has previously sought to delay the construction of the dam and its requests to inspect it have been rejected by the Ethiopians, who say Egypt needs to relinquish its power to veto projects on the Nile, which it was also given as part of the 1929 and 1959 treaties.
Under those agreements, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters a year, most of the Nile’s total flow of about 84 billion cubic meters. However, about 85 percent of the river’s water originates in the Ethiopian highlands.
A new deal signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allows them to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement. Egypt has not signed that deal.
The meeting on Tuesday, the sources told Al Jazeera, was almost called off because Hailemariam, who is also the current chairman of the African Union, was insulted by a request that he should go to Mansour.
The issue was resolved when the leaders ageed to meet halfway – in a corridor.