Exclusive: Sudan once again asks UNSC to stop Ethiopia from filling GERD before deal; US continues pressure as SC prepares for another meeting

Addis Standard staffs

Addis Abeba, June 25/2020 – In a fresh letter addressed to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on June 24, Sudan has requested the SC to “discourage all parties from unilateral actions including starting the filling of the reservoir before reaching an agreement.” Sudan also said it was “deeply concerned about Ethiopia decision to start filling the GERD reservoir in the absence of an agreement.”

Although Sudan has previously expressed its stand against Ethiopia’s position to begin with the first stage of filling this July without first reaching at an agreement, its latest letter reasserting its position follows Egypt’s June 19 move to take the unresolved matter surrounding the GERD for “immediate consideration” by the UNSC.

In a three-page letter addressed to France’s top UN diplomat, Nicolas De Riviere, the current president of the UNSC, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri categorized Ethiopia’s July schedule to begin the filling of the GERD as “an imminent threat to international peace and security” and asked the UNSC to stop Ethiopia from taking a unilateral action to fill its dam before reaching an agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

Following Egypt’s appeal on June 19, the UNSC member states held a video conference on Monday June 22, which ended without a consensuses on Egypt’s request for an open session. South Africa and Niger, two non-permanent members of the SC, protested against the motion to hold an open session arguing that GERD negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan were still ongoing and that this issue did not belong in the Security Council. They also argued in favor of a greater role by the African Union (AU) than the UNSC. China, a permanent member of the SC, supported the two African states, particularly on their suggestions for increased role by the AU.

The 15 permanent and non-permanent member states of the UNSC conducted the video conference despite Ethiopia’s rejection of Egypt’s move to take the matter the SC. In a letter addressed to Nicolas De Riviere, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew strongly criticized “Egypt’s unilateral decision to bring this matter to the Security Council” as “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Principles (Dop) that the leaders of the three countries signed on 25 March 2015,” which “clearly sets out how the three countries should settle disputes through consultation or negotiation in accordance with the principle of good faith, failing which they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of their Heads of State and Government.”

A source at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with knowledge to the matter told Addis Standard that regardless of Ethiopia’s objection to Egypt’s move, the video conference took place on Monday June 22 since Egypt has invoked the UN Charter on “threat to international peace and security”, which “the French Presidency could not simply ignore” and has therefore considered the issue for formality under “any other business.”

A ‘press element’ issued by the UN Secretary General António Guterres after the video conference has called for the continuation of the trilateral talks. However siding with Egypt, the US has objected the Secretary General’s call for continuation of the trilateral talks, and instead demanded for an open session by the end of this week. “The 15 member states of the Council are now negotiating over whether to hold the open meeting or not. Under the current working methods, a consensus is needed to hold such a meeting,” our source said.

In what appears to be the United States’ continued pressure behind the scene however, the UNSC is likely to hold another meeting either on Friday June 26 or Monday June 29, Addis Standard has learnt. “There is no agreement as of June 24. South Africa is standing firm. The US has floated the idea of a resolution on June 23 as part of a package in lieu of an open meeting. The French are now trying to bring the two sides to the middle. If they find consensus, the meeting will happen most likely on Friday or Monday afternoon.” However a consensus among the 15 members states to bring the UNSC to mediate the dispute is unlikely to come.

By pushing for an open session at the UNSC, the US is planning to achieve two things, our source said. “First, that’s what Egypt wanted in coming to the UN Security Council because they had assurances from Washington. Second, both Cairo and Washington feel that a strong statement from UNSC calling on Ethiopia to not fill the dam without a deal is the only way that they can stop Addis Abeba. Suffice to say, it is now US vs Ethiopia, with support from two of the three elected African countries [no-permanent member states].”

A draft statement prepared for release after the next meeting and was seen by Addis Standard “calls upon the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and the Republic of the Sudan to expeditiously recommence negotiations, in good faith, to reach, at the earliest possible opportunity, a mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”

With the intensified pressure from the US, concerns within Ethiopia are growing on whether the UNSC’s upcoming statement could include a call against any unilateral measures, including Ethiopia’s July schedule to begin the first stage filling of the GERD.

Ethiopia has already explained to the UNSC in May this year that its first state filling was “meant to begin testing of the power plant – effectively releasing the water downstream. Furthermore, the impoundment is carried out in two years with 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in the first year and 13.5 [billion] cubic meters of water in the second year. This volume of water taken from the average flow 49 billion cubit meters of the Blue Nile causes no significant harm on downstream reservoirs. Moreover, the rules for first stage filling are not the creation of Ethiopia. Rather, they are taken from the non-controversial sections of the entire ‘guidelines and rules’ worked out by the three countries.”

Despite the pressure, so far, Ethiopia has not reversed its decision to stick to its July schedule to begin the first stage filling of the GERD. AS

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