Egypt asks UN Security Council to intervene in GERD dispute, Sisi says Egypt committed to diplomatic solution

Egypt remains committed to diplomacy to resolve disagreements over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday in a speech that came after he inspected Egyptian troops in the country’s Western Military Region.  

The president stressed that Addis Ababa has the “right to development” but that Cairo “wants its children to live.”

Sisi’s speech came one day after Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry submitted an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to intervene and urge Ethiopia to resume negotiations with Sudan and Egypt in order to reach a fair and balanced solution to the crisis, avoid tensions, and maintain international peace and security. 

The Egyptian appeal to the UN Security Council, a copy of which Mada Masr obtained, referred to the statements made by Ethiopia’s senior officials regarding filling the dam in July as “extremely dangerous,” emphasizing the continued intransigence of the Ethiopian side during the past 10 years as well as Addis Ababa’s desire “to establish a fait accompli on its downstream co-riparians.” 

According to a Western diplomatic source who spoke to Mada Masr, Addis Ababa is getting ready to begin the first filling phase of the dam on July 16. 

Despite the looming start date, an Egyptian government official told Mada Masr that Egypt will not be compelled to sign onto an agreement it does not find satisfactory just to avoid an unregulated filling process. According to the government official, Egypt’s appeal to the UN Security Council is not an attempt to get into a spat with Ethiopia but aims to urge the council and the international community to pressure Ethiopia into committing to serious negotiations in order to reach a satisfactory tripartite agreement. 

Shoukry’s five-page letter to Nicolas Dorevier, the permanent UN representative of France who became the chair of the UN Security Council in June, included a number of appendices. The first of these appendices contains a legal refutation of a letter Ethiopia sent to the UN Security Council on May 14 in response to a May 1 letter sent to council by Egypt. In the refutation, Shoukry contests Ethiopia’s claim that it is not obligated, under the Declaration of Principles that was signed between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in March 2015, to sign an agreement before starting the filling and operation of the dam.

Shoukry also attached the agreement that was drafted in Washington D.C., which details a proposed mechanism for filling and operating the dam in a way that Egypt continues to hold guarantees Addis Ababa’s right to obtain electricity without causing harm to Khartoum and Cairo, as well as details on safety measures, follow-up on implementation, and mechanisms for handling legal disputes. 

The United States became involved in the dispute in November after Egypt called for international mediation. Delegations from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan met three times in Washington earlier this year. Ethiopia pulled out of the final meeting in late February where a deal was to be signed, calling on the U.S. to allow time for more internal consultations. After holding bilateral talks with Egypt and Sudan, the U.S. released a statement saying it believed an agreement had been reached. Yet Sudan declined to give any formal consent to the text, leaving Egypt as the only country to sign the deal.

Zerihun Yigzaw, an official at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one of the country’s negotiators in talks over the dam, told Mada Masr that the U.S. is a “biased arbitrator” that has backed Egypt.

The proposals Ethiopia submitted to Egypt and Sudan on June 10 and June 16 during the latest round of negotiations were also included in the appendices of the appeal to the UN Security Council. These proposals would not have bound Ethiopia to a legal agreement and instead included a set of adjustable measures, which Egypt and Sudan jointly rejected. 

Shoukry’s appeal to the UN Security Council is not the first from Egypt. 

Egypt wrote to the Security Council in May, urging the bloc to call on Ethiopia to not act unilaterally by filling the dam. Sudan sent a similar letter. In response, Ethiopia sent a letter to the Security Council two weeks later saying it “does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam.” 

According to comments Shoukry made on Amr Adib’s Al-Hekaya program on Friday night, Egypt has called on the UN Security Council to use its authority to emphasize the importance of the three countries continuing to negotiate in good faith in observance of international laws in order to reach a fair and balanced solution to the filling and operation of the GERD. Egypt, according to Shoukry’s comments, has also called on the UN Security Council to ensure that no unilateral action is taken that will affect the chances of reaching an agreement between the three countries. 

The Egyptian request to the Security Council is based on Article 35 of the UN Charter, which permits member states to alert the council to any crisis that threatens international peace and security. Under Chapter VI of the charter, the council can issue a recommendation to parties to a conflict urging them to continue negotiations, even if the parties do not agree to solicit the council’s decision. The Security Council can also issue binding decisions to parties to a dispute, if it judges the conflict to constitute a threat to peace. 

On June 17, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty said in a statement that the talks had made “little progress” due to the “intransigent positions” held by Ethiopia on both technical and legal aspects of the deal. Ethiopia refused to “include a legally binding dispute resolution mechanism and objected to the inclusion of an effective measure to cope with periods of drought,” Abdel Aty said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said that the three countries had agreed on “95 percent” of the technical issues related to the filling and operation of the dam but that the differences over the legal aspects remained unsolved. 

Sudan has proposed referring the matter to the prime ministers of the three countries in a bid to resume negotiations once again. The Ethiopan Ministry of Irrigation said in a statement on Thursday that it agreed to continue negotiations after consulting Sudan. Yet it also reiterated Ethiopia’s right to fill and operate the dam in accordance with the Declaration of Principles signed by all three countries in Khartoum in 2015.

“We are giving Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok a bit of time to consult with the Ethiopians and see if they would move forward toward the basic idea of a legally binding agreement,” an informed Cairo official told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity on Thursday. “The visit by the vice president of Sudan’s presidential council was supposed to help there,” he added, referring to Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), who arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

The 2015 agreement served as Egypt’s recognition of Ethiopia’s right to build the dam. As part of the deal, Cairo agreed to the choice of international consultancy firms BRL and Artelia Group to conduct technical studies. The agreement also set the initial guidelines for the first filling and management of GERD. But Ethiopia backtracked on some of its commitments from the agreement pertaining to the filling of the dam, a matter to which Egypt eventually conceded.

During the Egyptian deliberations that preceded the Khartoum agreement, a number of official bodies told Sisi that the agreement would weaken Egypt’s position in the negotiations, a former government source who took part in the meetings previously told Mada Masr. However, Sisi ended up signing the agreement, telling his aides at the time that it would lead to a big change in the Ethiopian stance, and that he would put to use “his personal influence on Ethiopian officials and Ethiopian public opinion,” the source added.

The recent collapse in talks comes amid a backdrop of Egypt’s failed efforts to apply international pressure on Addis Ababa through diplomatic channels and by repeatedly calling on allies with large investments in Ethiopia to use their economic weight to force them to the negotiating table and commit to a binding agreement. Despite the lack of progress in the latest negotiations and the diplomatic blitz in recent months, Egypt remains committed to this strategy, Egyptian officials previously told Mada Masr.

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