Ethiopian dam talks stall with proposal for mediation by PMs

CAIRO, June 18 (Reuters) - Talks over a giant hydropower dam being built on the Blue Nile that has put Egypt and Ethiopia at loggerheads have been halted weeks before its expected start-up, with a proposal for prime ministers to try to broker a breakthrough.

Daily negotiations involving water ministers and technical teams started on June 9 in an effort to strike a deal on the operation of the dam before July, when Ethiopia has said it will start filling the dam’s reservoir.

The dam, which is mostly finished, is located on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, just across the border with Sudan.

Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its fresh water supplies, sees it as a potentially existential threat. It is anxious to secure a legally binding deal that would guarantee minimum flows and a mechanism for resolving disputes before the dam starts operating.

The talks, in which the United States, the European Union and South Africa have acted as observers, follow a previous round of negotiations in Washington, which ended without agreement in February.

Sudanese Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasser Abbas said late on Wednesday that Sudan’s delegation had requested the issue be referred to the prime ministers of the three countries to reach a political consensus and restart talks, according to statements carried by state news agency SUNA.

Egypt said Ethiopia had rejected the proposal and the talks had “not made significant progress”.

Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Ministry said the meeting concluded with an agreement to continue negotiations after Sudan’s delegation consulted with its prime minister.

“The most prominent technical issues are resolved through the negotiation. However, the full completion of the negotiation will require resolution of legal issues,” the statement said. (Reporting by Moamen Said Atallah, Dawit Endeshaw, Khalid Abdelaziz, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean)