A new failure: Preconditions hamper US mediation in the GERD

After a shuttle tour which lasted about 10 days, the United States found nothing but a call for an “immediate” resumption of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile and has raised concerns in Cairo and Khartoum.

The final statement of the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, did not reveal the details of the talks, but he said that Feltman will return to the region soon to continue efforts.

So why did the new round of US mediation fail, and how did the conditions from the three countries cause obstacles to resolving the worsening crisis for years? While discussing the causes of failure, observers said that it must be emphasised that the US mediation is “weaker than hoped,” and it has not been relied upon to a great extent. Perhaps the most prominent reason is the approaching date of the second filling of the dam, which Ethiopia insists on implementing. Therefore, there is no sufficient time to allow tripartite negotiations to be held again to discuss the outstanding issues.

Feltman’s visit was not aimed at a solution as much as Washington and the capitals concerned with the issue sought to make sure that Egypt and Sudan would not resolve the issue militarily and that Ethiopia was ready to resume negotiations at a later time. This atmosphere casts a shadow of ambiguity over the United States and the African Union’s perceptions of how to resume negotiations in the coming days, to end a partial agreement on the second filling of the dam, and whether or not it is possible to start talks to complete a final and comprehensive agreement.

Although the international mediators went to a temporary solution to ensure that the second filling could be completed without problems, the Ethiopian side, during Feltman’s visit to Addis Ababa yesterday, expressed new conditions. On top of these conditions, the partial agreement should not mention participation in managing the filling process. Coordination should be limited to exchanging information and reporting changes in behaviour only.

The conditions also include that the agreement does not mention stopping the construction works that must occur in conjunction with the second filling to reduce the damage caused to the two downstream countries. Sudan also requires the formulation of explicit articles in the agreement, which guarantee the protection of the Rossaires Dam and preserve the level of its lake, which is less than 25 kilometres from the Renaissance Dam. Sudan fears a repeat of last year’s scenario, which caused thousands of acres to flood, which clashes with Ethiopian reservations. As for Egypt, no specific conditions were issued, and it was content with absolute solidarity with Sudan. Washington is trying to ease these conditions to present a complete draft of the partial agreement to the three countries.

According to observers, the second filling of the dam is no longer the current negotiation issue. Rather, the target for Egypt and Sudan is to reach a binding agreement before the third filling of the dam next year. Egypt and Sudan are currently looking to the United States and other international powers such as the European Union, the African Union, and the Security Council to ensure the seriousness of Ethiopia’s participation in any subsequent negotiations.

The two countries also seek the necessity of returning to the Washington draft agreement signed by Egypt alone after the negotiating round that ended last spring to start with it as an acceptable technical legal reference.

According to the Egyptian researcher Al-Mutazz-Bellah Abdel-Hamid, the American tour did not present new things; rather, it was marred by many negatives, such as the lack of readiness with complete proposals, despite contacts made by the US envoy to Sudan Donald Booth two months ago.

The visit also revealed that Feltman was not familiar with the details of the case, said Abdel Hamid, but rather revealed that he is loaded with a large amount of inaccurate or wrong information. Egyptians believe this is caused by his assistants of young activists in the Democratic Party of African descent. These young people have long been known for their tendencies in support of the dam project and their influence with the propaganda conducted by Ethiopia to control the tendencies of US President Joe Biden before he won the presidency. He added: “Egypt is betting on the possibility of pushing Washington, London, and Paris to the international file if the obstinate Ethiopian position continues.”

The academic Suad Al-Tawil, said that it is in Egypt’s interest to strengthen the American intervention in mediation and to resolve the issue in the face of China and Russia, who reject international moves. Suad cited as an example an article by the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Moataz Zahran, in the magazine Foreign Policy a few days ago in which he called on the American administration to intervene immediately and take urgent action to resolve the issue. And she added, “The United States has the necessary influence to urge Ethiopia to participate in good faith in the negotiations of the Renaissance Dam, and to refrain from unilateral actions and the pursuit of narrow self-interests that harm its neighbours’ interests.” “The United States must also play a greater role to protect its interests in the region as a whole from Chinese and Russian interference.”