WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi spoke on Tuesday to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), after U.S.-brokered talks on the Nile mega dam fell apart last week.
The White House in a statement Tuesday said that President Trump expressed hope that an agreement on the dam would be finalized soon and benefit all parties involved.
Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said on Tuesday that Ethiopia would continue talks but warned Washington not to rush the process or try to influence the outcome.
“I think it is best if America works to support the negotiations so that the parties resolve the remaining issues,” Andargachew said to VOA Amharic.
Ethiopia said it would commence first filling of the dam’s reservoir, despite months of talks with Egypt and Sudan hosted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Downstream country Egypt fears Ethiopia's plans to rapidly fill the reservoir could threaten its source of fresh water.
The country said it did not accept the U.S. "characterization that the negotiation on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD is completed”.
Last Wednesday it walked out of what was supposed to be the final round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in Washington.
At the end of the talks, Egypt issued its own statement saying it had initialed the agreement, calling it "fair and balanced" and in "the common interest of the three countries.”
“The United States seems to be putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt,” said David Shinn, adjunct professor of international affairs at the George Washington University and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.
Shinn said it's not clear what the United States is trying to achieve beyond Trump’s statement that he wants a quick solution to the problem. “Perhaps it is time to make the agreement public so that everyone can see what the United States is proposing,” Shinn said.
Given Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the terms of the of the agreement, the Trump administration has “no option but to bow out and make room for another impartial mediator,” said Addisu Lashitew, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Lashitew accused the administration of not fully understanding the mess it has created by complicating a “delicate negotiation process that was already tense.“
“In a matter of weeks the U.S. has squandered the goodwill that it has developed with Ethiopia through decades-long engagement,” Lashitew said.
The next steps in negotiations are unclear.
“It’s now a matter of political will,” said Aaron Salzberg, director of The Water Institute at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“If the parties want to reach an agreement, they will work through the remaining differences — with or without the United States,” Salzberg added.
Salem Solomon, Solomon Abate, Eskinder Firew and Yeheyes Wuhib contributed to this report.