By Nadine Awadalla and Eric Knecht
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will visit Addis Ababa next week for talks with his Ethiopian counterpart, a foreign ministry spokesman said, in a bid to end a standoff over a multi-billion dollar dam project on the Nile river.
The dispute, which also involves Sudan, centers on control of a share of the waters of the Nile that stretches 6,695 km (4,184 miles) from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean and is the economic lifeblood of all three countries.
Cairo says the dam would threaten water supplies that have fed Egypt’s agriculture and economy for thousands of years.
Ethiopia says the Grand Renaissance Dam, which it hopes will help make it Africa’s largest power exporter, will have no major effect on Egypt. It accuses Cairo of flexing its political muscle to deter financiers from backing other Ethiopian power projects.
Delegations from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia met in Cairo in November to approve a study by a French firm commissioned to assess the dam’s environmental and economic impact.
But negotiations stalled when they failed to agree on the initial report with each blaming others for blocking progress.
Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Moataz Moussa said Egypt was unwilling to accept amendments to the report put forward by Khartoum and Addis Ababa.
Sudan and Ethiopia had expressed concern over several points, especially the proposed baseline from which the study would measure the dam’s impacts, Moussa said in November.
Another source of disagreement is whether Ethiopia plans to complete construction before negotiations over water flows have finished.
“It’s clear they don’t want to reach conclusions quickly. We believe they probably want to start filling the dam and complete construction while there are still some ongoing discussions,” said Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Arab Water Council Chair and former Egyptian irrigation minister.
He said this would violate an agreement signed by all three countries in Khartoum in 2015 meant to ensure diplomatic cooperation and stem fears of a resource conflict.
Cairo fears the 6,000-megawatt dam, being built by Italy’s largest construction firm, Salini Impregilo SpA, and due for completion next year, will reduce the flow it depends on for drinking water and irrigation.
Egyptian officials say safeguarding the country’s quota of Nile water is a matter of national security.
“No one can touch Egypt’s water … (which) means life or death for a population,” President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last month.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Eric Knecht; Editing by John Davison)