A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia, on December 26, 2019. - The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a 145-metre-high, 1.8-kilometre-long concrete colossus is set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa. (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Tuesday discussed over the phone the latest developments in resolving the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

During the conversation, Trump expressed his appreciation that Egypt signed initials of the agreement that resulted from the rounds of negotiations on the GERD during the past months, Egyptian Presidency’s spokesman Bassam Rady said in a statement.Trump noted that the agreement is comprehensive, fair and balanced, stressing that signing the agreement reflects Egypt’s goodwill and sincere political will.Trump also stressed that the U.S. administration will continue its efforts to coordinate with Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on this issue, until the three countries sign the agreement.

For his part, Sisi expressed appreciation for the role the U.S. administration is playing in sponsoring the tripartite negotiations on the dam. Sisi affirmed that Egypt will continue to give this issue the utmost attention as the North African country is keen to defend the interests, capabilities and future of the Egyptian people. Egypt said on Saturday it has signed a U.S.-brokered deal regarding the rules of filling and operation of the GERD, while urging Ethiopia and Sudan to follow suit.

However, Ethiopia said on Saturday that it had notified Egypt, Sudan and the U.S. that it needed more time to deliberate on the process. It added that it will commence the first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the dam, in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization, and causing no significant harm. Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Ethiopia cannot start filling the GERD until “an agreement is reached with the downstream countries.” “Egypt desires to see Ethiopia follow the path of negotiations,” Shoukry said in an interview with the Egyptian TV Program “9 O’clock PM” on Monday night. He explained that Ethiopia pledged in the Declaration of Principles, signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in March 2015, not to start filling the dam until an agreement is reached on the operation rules. He highlighted that no side, based on the rules of international law and the Declaration of Principles, is allowed to take unilateral decisions regarding transboundary rivers.

Ethiopia, an upstream Nile Basin country, started building the GERD in 2011 on the Blue Nile, while downstream Egypt is concerned that the dam might affect its 55.5-billion-cubic-meter annual share of Nile water. Filling the reservoir, whose total capacity is 74 billion cubic meters, may take several years. Egypt seeks to prolong the period to avoid the negative effects of water shortage, which is a main point of the talks. The GERD is expected to produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity and become Africa’s largest hydropower dam upon completion.

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