U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to host the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as the president of the World Bank Group, David Malpass, in Washington on Wednesday for a discussion about a giant hydropower dam project on the Nile River.
The controversial project in Ethiopia’s section of the river has been the focus of an escalating feud between Ethiopia and Egypt over scarce water resources.
The Trump administration sent a letter Oct. 21 to the three countries and Malpass to try to find a resolution to the dispute, after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi asked President Donald Trump to mediate.
The president appointed Mnuchin as the lead person on the issue, apparently bypassing the State Department — including the department’s agency tasked with foreign trans-boundary water management, which has been talking about the issue with the involved parties at least since 2011.
It is unclear what the Trump administration’s interest is in the conflict.
Responding to VOA’s question on Friday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the Trump administration is “very active all around the globe having different meetings” and “doing things in a very unconventional, different way” without giving further details.
The Treasury Department has not responded to VOA’s queries on the issue.
Egypt has long-sought external help to mediate the conflict. Last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry said the parties have been invited to meet and “discuss breaking the deadlock in the ongoing negotiations.”
Cairo considers the issue a national security matter because it believes Ethiopia’s planned construction of the massive upstream Nile dam could threaten Egypt’s source of fresh water.
Ethiopia wants to keep the negotiations on a tripartite level and has previously rejected outside mediation. It has confirmed Minister of Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew will attend the Washington meeting but Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Seleshi Bekele, told VOA that third-party negotiation “is not something that Ethiopia will reach into an agreement on,” adding that “the issue will only be resolved on a technical level.”
Neighboring Sudan, which has less at stake in the conflict, has confirmed that it will attend.
Under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, Egypt can take up to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water from the Nile each year, and Sudan can take up to 18.5 billion. The agreement was reached shortly before Egypt began constructing its own megadam, the Aswan High Dam.
Ethiopia was not part of this agreement and has been negotiating for a formal water-sharing agreement with Egypt for years. One sticking point remains the rate at which Ethiopia will draw water out of the Nile to fill the dam’s reservoir.
Cairo fears that filling the reservoir behind the dam too quickly could reduce its share of water from the Nile.