The US State Department has declined to refute a report the Trump administration plans to withhold some foreign assistance to Ethiopia as a punitive measure for its rejection of the White House’s mediation in the Nile river dam dispute with Egypt and Sudan.
“We do not have any announcements concerning US foreign assistance at this time,” wrote Nicole Thompson from the State Department’s communications team, in response to a Quartz Africa request for clarity. “We believe that with constructive dialog and cooperation, a solution is within reach. We reaffirm our commitment to remain engaged with the three countries until they reach agreement.”
According to a report by Foreign Policy, US secretary of State Mike Pompeo has okayed a plan to withhold up to $130 million in foreign assistance slated for Ethiopia’s military and anti-human trafficking programs. The move will be seen in Ethiopia as a definite show of support for its rivals in the dispute, in particular Egypt.
Ethiopian authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
The three Nile riparian states have been at odds with each other for over a decade over Ethiopia’s construction of the $5 billion Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam (GERD) a massive hydroelectric power dam on the Nile River. The Trump administration was called in as a mediator last year, but talks went nowhere with the US’ role coming in for scrutiny after Ethiopia accused US mediators of siding with Egypt and attempting to coerce it into an unfair compromise.
Ethiopia’s foreign minister Gedu Andargachew skipped out on a final February summit in Washington DC that was to be the venue of the signing of the US drafted treaty.
But while the Trump White House publicly maintains it seeks a fair settlement for all parties, its public urging for the Ethiopian government to sign the controversial treaty has sparked suspicion with ordinary Ethiopians. Eventually, Ethiopia’s rejection of the US-led process resulted in the Horn of Africa country being threatened with sanctions last month.
Egypt is particularly vocal about its concerns with the Renaissance dam, would seriously deplete its Nile water supply, vital for irrigation of crops by Egyptian farmers. Ethiopia insists the project would bring no harm to downstream states and that the project is key to overcoming poverty and nationwide power shortages.
Egypt went as far as taking up its case with the United Nations Security Council to prevent Ethiopia from commencing the filling stage of the dam. Both states failed to agree to a timetable and terms for filling the dam, and despite urging from the US, Sudan, and Egypt, Ethiopia refused to budge from its commitment to start the filling process in July. In clear defiance of the US and Egypt, Ethiopia went ahead with the filling as scheduled, reaching its first year filling target within weeks, reportedly facilitated with the good rains. The announcement sparked wild celebrations in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
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