June 18, 2020 / 8:48 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 1-Ethiopian dam talks stall with proposal for mediation by PMs

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CAIRO, June 18 (Reuters) - Talks over a giant new dam that has put Egypt and Ethiopia at loggerheads have been halted weeks before the expected start-up of the hydropower project, with a proposal for prime ministers to broker a breakthrough.

Daily negotiations involving water ministers and technical teams from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan started on June 9 in an effort to strike a deal on the operation of the dam before July, when Ethiopia has said it will start filling the dam’s reservoir.

The mostly finished dam is located on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan.

Egypt is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for fresh water supplies and sees the dam as a potentially existential threat. It wants a legally binding deal that would guarantee minimum flows and a mechanism for resolving disputes before the dam starts operating.

Ethiopia says it has the right to use Nile waters long controlled by Egypt for its own economic development.

The talks, in which the United States, the European Union and South Africa have acted as observers, follow negotiations in Washington that ended without agreement in February.

Sudan said late on Wednesday that its delegation had requested the issue be referred to the prime ministers of the three countries to reach a political consensus and restart talks, according to statements carried by state news agency SUNA.

Egypt said Ethiopia had rejected the proposal and the talks had “not made significant progress”.

Ethiopia said the meeting concluded with an agreement to continue negotiations after Sudan’s delegation consulted with its prime minister.

“The most prominent technical issues are resolved through the negotiation. However, the full completion of the negotiation will require resolution of legal issues,” its water ministry said.

Many Ethiopians objected to a tweet by the U.S. National Security Council on Wednesday urging a deal, responding with messages carrying the hashtag #ItIsMyDam. (Reporting by Moamen Said Atallah, Dawit Endeshaw, Khalid Abdelaziz, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by William Maclean and Leslie Adler)

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