Even before the impact studies have been started, officials say 50 percent of the dam's construction has been completed [Reuters]

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Sunday held a virtual meeting over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue as the deadlock on tripartite negotiations continued.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the three countries’ ministers of foreign affairs as well as ministers of water affairs discussed late Sunday after “the failure of the three countries to continue the trilateral process in the previous week due to the absence of Sudan.” The ministers exchanged views on the continuation of the trilateral negotiation, according to the ministry.

The Chairperson of the AU Executive Council is to assist progress proposed for the three countries to have a three-day bilateral meeting with the AU designated experts to be followed by a trilateral meeting and report the outcome to her office, it was noted.

“While Ethiopia and Egypt agreed with the proposition, Sudan declined compelling the closure of the meeting,” the statement read.

The meeting was convened by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa and Chairperson of the AU Executive Council.

It also stressed that the East African country “took the initiative to immediately establish an effective and reciprocal data exchange mechanism. Following this, the Chairperson of the AU Executive Council will report to the Chairperson of the AU.”

Last week, the three countries’ ministers exchanged views on the continuation of the trilateral negotiation focusing on a draft document presented by the experts assigned by the chairperson of the AU.

“Ethiopia pronounced its positive outlook towards the draft document and expressed its willingness to use it as a single work document for the trilateral negotiation,” the ministry had said.

Sudan confirmed “the importance of the document for the progress of the negotiation and its willingness to advance the negotiation with a defined role of the AU experts,” it said. Egypt, however, “categorically rejected the document,” according to the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Sudanese Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasir Abbas said Sudan cannot continue with the negotiations without an agreement.

“We cannot continue with this vicious cycle of circular talks indefinitely given the direct threat posed by the GERD to (Sudan’s) Roseires Dam, the storage capacity of which is less than 10 percent of that of the GERD, if it is filled and operated without agreement or daily exchange of data,” Sudan’s official SUNA news agency quoted Abbas as saying on Sunday.

Ethiopia started building the GERD in 2011, while Egypt is concerned that the dam might affect its share of the Nile water.

Sudan has recently been raising similar concerns over the dam. Over the past few years, tripartite talks on the rules of filling and operating the Ethiopian dam have been fruitless, including those hosted by Washington and recently by the AU.

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