Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Sudan on Saturday for the first time since the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir, as the neighbours push to break a diplomatic deadlock over a giant dam being built by Ethiopia.
El-Sisi landed at Khartoum international airport and headed to a meeting with General Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereign Council, at the presidential palace. There, they inspected a military guard of honor.
El-Sisi also met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagal, deputy head of the sovereign council.
“This visit comes within the framework of close cooperation between the two nations,” Burhan told a news conference with el-Sisi. “We discussed all the files that support mutual cooperation.”
The Egyptian leader was also due to discuss Red Sea security and developments on Sudan’s borders during his visit to Khartoum, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement.
Sudan faces security challenges including an increase in violence in the western Darfur region and recent armed skirmishes in a disputed area on its border with Ethiopia.
Both Egypt and Sudan lie downstream from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Addis Ababa says is crucial to its economic development.
Ethiopia, which says it has every right to use Nile waters long exploited by Egypt, started filling the reservoir behind the dam last year after Egypt and Sudan failed to secure a legally binding agreement over the hydropower dam’s operation.
Khartoum fears the dam, which lies on the Blue Nile close to the border with Sudan, could increase the risk of flooding and affect the safe operation of its own Nile dams, while water-scarce Egypt fears its supplies from the Nile could be hit.
At least 20 million Sudanese, more than half the country’s population, could be affected if Ethiopia fills and operates the dam without coordinating with Sudan, the government in Khartoum has said.
El-Sisi said that Egypt and Sudan have agreed on the importance of relaunching “serious and effective” negotiations that aim at achieving a “fair, balanced and legally binding” agreement on the dam’s filling and operating.
The two countries also reject attempts by Ethiopia to “impose a fait accompli and control the Blue Nile through unilateral measures that do not take into account the interests and rights of the two downstream countries,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said talks have stalled because the three sides cannot reach a deal on “how to run the talks”.
“Sudan and Egypt have stressed that they want the observer to have a greater role, they want them to play a mediating role now,” Morgan said.
Sudan recently proposed that the United States, European Union, United Nations and African Union should actively mediate in the dispute, rather than simply observing talks, a suggestion that Egypt supports.
Ethiopia this week indicated its opposition to adding mediators to an existing, African Union-led process.
In a phone call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry “stressed the need to launch a serious and effective negotiation process” over the dam before a second round of filling expected this summer.
Guterres said the world body was ready to “support and participate” in AU-led negotiations to resolve the dam dispute.
Since al-Bashir was toppled following mass protests in 2019, a military-civilian council has held power in Sudan under a political transition expected to last until the end of 2023.
The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan. From there, the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, has called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.
About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Ethiopian officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.