(Bloomberg) -- A dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over a Nile dam moves Thursday to the United Nations Security Council, as the two Arab countries seek to secure international support and pressure Addis Ababa to resolve an issue that’s stoking regional security concerns.
Ahead of the council meeting, Tunisia circulated a draft resolution that calls for talks between the three countries to be hosted by the African Union and the UN’s secretary-general. It also wants a biding agreement within six months.
The draft appears to offer the kind of diplomatic push Egypt and Sudan -- which have both opposed Ethiopia’s filling of the dam -- want to see. Ethiopia has resisted repeated efforts to involve mediators, even as it downplayed Cairo and Khartoum’s concerns about how the mega project will affect their access to vital fresh water supplies.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has been lobbying Security Council members this week, after news that Ethiopia had begun the second stage of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was condemned by Cairo and Khartoum as a dangerous escalation that violated existing agreements.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, while stressing he wants a peaceful resolution, has declared his country’s water a “red line.”
“There are conflicting messages from Security Council members about whether Egypt will find traction on this at the UN,” said Jonas Horner, deputy director for Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group. While Egypt found “backing within the previous U.S. administration to pressure Ethiopia, the current administration has not been inclined to weigh in similarly partisan fashion.”
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Egypt and Sudan, which rely on the Nile for most of their fresh water, have maintained that Ethiopia lacks the political will to conclude a binding agreement. They cite its recent rejection of mediation efforts, including a Egyptian-Sudanese proposal to involve add the UN, the U.S. and the European Union.
Ethiopia argues the project, which includes a 6,000-megawatt power plant, is key to its long-term development and has downplayed concerns about how the dam will affect the other two countries.
Egypt’s Water Off Limits, Sisi Says, in Message to Ethiopia
The Tunisian draft calls for an agreement on filling and operating the dam that “ensures Ethiopia’s ability to generate hydropower from the GERD while preventing the inflicting of significant harm on the water security of downstream states,” according to a copy seen by Bloomberg.
It calls on the three countries to “refrain from making any statements, or taking any action that may jeopardize the negotiation process, and urges Ethiopia to refrain from continuing to unilaterally fill the GERD reservoir.”
While the three governments have repeated the requisite diplomatic niceties about seeking a peaceful solution, there’s also been some saber rattling.
Civil War Hardens Ethiopian Nile-Dam Stance, Sudan Minister Says
El-Sisi has warned that all options “are on the table,” comments echoed this week by Shoukry. Egypt and Sudan held several military drills -- the latest in May were dubbed “Guardians of the Nile.”
The rhetoric is more likely aimed at encouraging international action rather than a belief Ethiopia can be intimidated, said Horner.
“Cairo and Khartoum have limited leverage to press Ethiopia on the GERD,” he said. “Direct military intervention remains unlikely for now and would isolate Egypt internationally.”
(Recasts and updates throughout with comment.)
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