CAIRO — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed Sunday that Ethiopia will not reduce Egypt's share of Nile waters, as his country works to complete what will be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam.
Ahmed's comments came in a press conference with Egypt's President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi in Cairo.
He said the Ethiopians have "no desire or idea to harm the Egyptian people. We believe that we should benefit from this river, the Nile, but when we benefit we should not do harm to the Egyptian people," he said.
"We want to forget what was in the past and begin a phase of cooperation ... We will take care of the Nile, and we will preserve your share of the Nile water and we will work to increase this share."
Egypt's president said both countries are working to achieve a final agreement over the Renaissance Dam that "secures" Egypt's fair share of Nile waters and helps Ethiopia's development.
El-Sissi said he has been working over the past four years with Ethiopia to reach an agreement on the dam dispute.
"We have come a long way in building confidence with Ethiopia, he said.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister arrived in Cairo on Saturday for a two-day visit, his first since he assumed office in April.
On May 16, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan said they had made progress in talks on their lingering dispute over the Ethiopian dam.
Technical talks among the irrigation ministers of the three countries in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, ended with an agreement to set up a scientific study group to consult on the filling of Ethiopia's $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. They also confirmed that leaders from the three nations will meet every six months for consultations.
Egypt fears the dam will cut into its share of the river, which provides virtually all the fresh water for the arid country of 100 million people. Ethiopia, which has roughly same population size, says the dam is essential for its economic development.
Ethiopia will soon complete the dam, underscoring the shifting balance of power from Cairo to the upstream states of Sudan and Ethiopia, the Texas-based Stratfor intelligence firm said in assessment Wednesday.
"Cairo's weak hand and inability to gain sufficient leverage over Addis Ababa will force it to coordinate dam operations if it wishes to have input on future Nile River projects," it said.
The $4.8 billion dam is now 63 percent finished, and Ethiopia hopes to become a key energy hub in Africa upon its completion.
The main sticking point with Egypt concerns how quickly the reservoir behind the dam is filled, and the impact that will have downstream.
Egypt has received the lion's share of the Nile's waters under decades-old agreements seen by other Nile basin nations as unfair. Past Egyptian presidents have warned that any attempt to build dams along the Nile will be met with military action, but Egypt's current leader, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has ruled that out.
Sudan appears to be taking Ethiopia's side in the negotiations, and has revived a longstanding border dispute with Egypt.