Addis Ababa: Ethiopia and Egypt appeared to head off an escalation in their dispute over a giant dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, pledging further talks to resolve an impasse over how quickly it gets filled.
Ethiopia's government simultaneously announced that it's completed the first phase of filling the dam, following recent heavy rains. That could remove a flashpoint after reports last week that Ethiopia had begun pooling water without agreement from Egypt and neighbouring Sudan raised tensions between the three nations.
Talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan's leaders on Tuesday reached a "major common understanding" that paved the way for a "breakthrough agreement" on the filling of the reservoir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said in a statement. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok made a similar announcement.
"It was agreed to continue negotiations and focus for the time being on giving priority to crystalizing a binding legal agreement on the rules of filling and operating" the dam, Egypt's presidency said in a statement. "This shall be followed by working toward a comprehensive agreement for all aspects of joint cooperation among the three countries with regard to the use of the Nile water."
Ethiopia is close to completing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, or Abbay River, a main tributary of the Nile. Egypt relies on the larger river for most of its fresh water and has opposed any development that might impact the downstream flow of the waterway - a position echoed by Sudan. Both nations want an agreement with Ethiopia on how quickly the dam is filled to guarantee their water supplies.
Abiy's office said in addition to achieving its first-year dam-filling target, recent rains have resulted in the reservoir "overtopping."
"Current rainfall and runoff situation in the region have made it conducive to fill the dam," it said. "Ethiopia is committed to a balanced and win-win negotiation that ascertains the Abbay River will benefit all the three countries."