Sudan warns window closing in Nile dam dispute, asks UN help

FILE - This June 28, 2013 file photo, shows construction work at the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa in the Benishangu...
FILE - This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz re...

FILE - This June 28, 2013 file photo, shows construction work at the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa in the Benishangu...

FILE - This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz re...

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Sudan has joined Egypt in asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene in a dispute over Ethiopia’s newly built hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, warning that the window for the three countries to reach an agreement “is closing by the hour.”

Sudanese Foreign Minister Asmaa Mohammed Abdalla asked the council in a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press to call on leaders of the three countries “to demonstrate their political will and commitment by resolving the few remaining issues and conclude an agreement” on the basis of the draft Sudan submitted June 14.

Ethiopia announced last Friday that it would begin filling the huge dam’s reservoir in July after last week’s talks with Egypt and Sudan failed to reach an accord governing how the dam will be filled and operated.

Egypt formally asked the Security Council to intervene in a three-page letter the same day.

The Egyptian letter asked the U.N.’s most powerful body to call Ethiopia back into talks for a “fair and balanced solution,” and to urge it to refrain from unilateral acts. The government warned that filling the dam without a deal “constitutes a clear and present danger to Egypt,” with repercussions that “threaten international peace and security.”

Filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would potentially bring the years-long dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the $4.6 billion mega-project to a critical juncture, with some fearing it could escalate into military conflict. Commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media have often called for action to stop Ethiopia.

Ethiopia says the electricity that will be generated by the dam is a crucial for bringing millions of its people out of poverty. With the start of the rainy season in July bringing more water to the Blue Nile, the Nile’s main tributary, Ethiopia wants to start filling the reservoir.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90% of its water supplies, fears a devastating impact if the dam is operated without taking its needs into account. Sudan, which also largely depends on the Nile for water, has been caught between the competing interests.

The parties have been unable to agree on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and on how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any disputes.

Sudan’s Abdalla urged the Security Council to “discourage all parties from unilateral actions including starting the filling of the reservoir before reaching an agreement.”

The council will hold an open meeting on the dam dispute Monday and be briefed by U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo.

In her letter, Abdalla urged all parties involved to “work very hard to mark a historic moment in the Nile region” and turn the dam into “a trigger for cooperation instead of a cause for conflict and instability.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry told AP on Sunday that his country wants the Security Council to “undertake its responsibilities” to prevent Ethiopia from starting to fill the dam without an agreement. e accused Ethiopian officials of stoking antagonism between the countries and said “certainly the unilateral actions by Ethiopia in this regard would constitute ... a threat” to international peace and security.

Abdalla said Sudan is “deeply concerned” about Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the dam, which is only 15 kilometers (nine miles) downstream from the Sudanese Roseires reservoir. With Sudan's reservoir only one-tenth the size of the Ethiopian dam, Ethiopia’s unilateral action in filling the dam will put the operation of Roseires “and hence the lives of millions of people living downstream at a very high risk,” Abdalla said.

The United States earlier this year tried to broker a deal, but Ethiopia did not attend the signing meeting in February and accused the Trump administration of siding with Egypt. Last week, the U.S. National Security Council tweeted that “257 million people in east Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal.”

Egypt's foreign minister warned that filling the reservoir without an accord would violate the 2015 declaration of principles governing their talks — and rule out a return to negotiations.

“We are not seeking any coercive action by the Security Council,” Shukry said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference Thursday that the U.N. believes the negotiating process “is still moving forward” and fully supports it.

“We believe that the only way out in a situation like this is through dialogue among the parties, and we will be at the disposal of the parties,” he said.