Cablegate: Next Steps On Thenile Basin Initiative


DE RUEHEG #1615/01 2321157
P 201157Z AUG 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001615



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2019
SUBJECT: NEXT STEPS ON THENILE BASIN INITIATIVE REF: CAIRO 1506 Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.Key Points: -- The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation is pleased that the Nile Council of Ministers meetings resulted in a six-month extension in negotiations on the Nile Basin Initiative's (NBI) Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). -- In the next six months, the Government of Egypt (GoE) plans to consult with global legal and institutional experts, offer training courses, begin development projects, and organize technical and legal meetings for the Nile Basin Initiative countries. These efforts will culminate in an extraordinary ministerial meeting, probably in February 2010 at Sharm Al Sheikh. -- It appears that Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr Al Din Allam will have responsibility for engaging with the Equatorial Lakes countries, PM Ahmed Nazif will interact with Ethiopia, and Dr. Abdel Fattah Metawie, Chairman of Water Ministry's Nile Water Section, will coordinate with Sudan. -- Metawie and Ambassador Mohamed Rafik Khalil, political advisor to the Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, remain skeptical that an agreement can be reached in six months because the Nile waters issue has been entangled in domestic politics in upstream countries.

2.(C) Comment: Egypt's solution to the current impasse is upstream acceptance of its historical water quota and the need for prior approval for development projects in upstream countries using Nile water. Egypt views the six-month delay in signing the CFA as a victory, but realizes it must now come to an understanding with the other riparian countries on how to proceed after February 2010. Both Metawie and Khalil seemed skeptical that there would be a compromise resulting in a CFA in the next six months. While many people involved in the Nile Basin Initiative have technical competency in hydrology and development, there is a lack of understanding of the geo-political issues preventing a deal on the CFA. Neither Metawie nor Khalil could respond to our question about potential Chinese financing of Ethiopian dams. ----------------------------------- Evaluation of the Nile COM Meetings -----------------------------------

3.(C) Dr. Metawie told us on August 13 that the late July Nile COM meetings in Alexandria went "very well" because the seven upstream countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) realized they would not gain from "unilaterally" signing the CFA. He credited the "strong and consistent" Egyptian position on Nile waters and the donor countries' encouragement of unity for helping to convince upstream countries to return to the negotiation table. Metawie declared that the bilateral meetings with Ethiopia were most productive because they allowed each country to state its position and build confidence and trust in one another. He praised Ethiopian Minister of Water Asfaw Dingamo for being open to dialogue and compromise.

4.(C) According to Metawie, Egypt believes that the principles of the NBI are consensus, implementing win-win projects, and causing no harm to other countries. If all countries abide by these principles, there can be a solution to the current impasse. Ambassador Khalil, in the same meeting, said that a "unilateral" signing of the CFA would violate the NBI principles and force Egypt to withdraw from the organization. It was Egypt's willingness to withdraw from the NBI that pushed the upstream countries to compromise. Metawie said Egypt, in the last 10 years, has invested substantially in upstream development projects to make the NBI work. This "soft line" of diplomacy and development is essential to winning over upstream countries. ------------------ Egypt's Next Steps ------------------

5.(C) Over the next six months, The GoE also plans to consult with international experts on the legal and institutional issues, offer training programs to upstream countries at the Egyptian National Water Research Center, and meet with the representatives from upstream countries to get them to the negotiation table. Egypt will also work with the EU to begin a "trilateral project" where the EU would finance Egyptian technical experts to design and implement development projects in other Nile basin countries to improve drinking water, store water, and provide technical education. According to Metawie, Egypt will also organize technical and legal meetings for the NBI countries. These meeting will culminate in an extra-ordinary ministerial probably in February 2010 at Sharm Al Sheikh.

6.(C) It appears the GoE has a three-way division of labor to engage with other NBI countries. Minister of Water Resources Mohamed Nasr Al Din Allam will have responsibility for engaging with the Equatorial Lakes countries, PM Ahmed Nazif will interact with Ethiopia, and Metawie will coordinate with Sudan. Minister Allam traveled to the DRC on August 13 and will be meeting with representatives from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda over the next month. Metawie said Egypt plans to provide experts to study the water needs of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and will establish new wells and small projects to help meet their water needs. PM Nazif plans to travel to Addis Ababa at the end of September to discuss Nile water cooperation with Ethiopian officials, but Metawie had no details on plans for development cooperation with Ethiopia. Metawie will travel to Sudan in the next two weeks to coordinate the position of the two countries on the Nile. He told us Sudan "sees the situation like Egypt" because northern Sudan and Egypt have the same environmental conditions. ----------------------- The Egyptian Assessment -----------------------

8.(C) Both Metawie and Khalil were skeptical about the potential for a near-term solution because the upstream countries lack an understanding of water resource management, have used the Nile water issues for domestic political consumption, and view the issue as "win-lose." Khalil said that the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have been vocal about using Nile water for development and have made domestic political promises to do so. According to Khalil, Kenya accused Egypt of taking Lake Victoria water to cultivate two million acres of food in Uganda, but Metawie stated that diminishing water levels in Lake Victoria are a result of Uganda releasing water for power generation, not agricultural cultivation. (Note: The Kenyan claim may be based on a July 2008 meeting between Egyptian President Mubarak and Ugandan President Museveni where they discussed joint agricultural projects in Uganda to combat the global food crisis. End Note.) Metawie said Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi has backed himself into a corner by telling his domestic audience that his government will use the Blue Nile for agricultural development. This ensures that any compromise will be viewed as "selling the Nile to Egypt."

9.(C) Metawie stated that the Aswan High Dam, with its 162 billion cubic meter capacity gives Egypt the "upper hand" in negotiations because it changed the geography of the Nile and eliminated any immediate water threat to Egypt. He said the idea to reduce evaporation by drawing down the capacity of Lake Nasser, and hold water in dams in Ethiopia and Sudan is "not wise" because the rate of siltation is so high that 50 percent of the live storage of these dams would be filled with sediment. The upstream countries, according to Metawie, have a "pastoralist," rather than an agricultural orientation, and fail to realize that rain-fed agriculture is the best and least expensive way to cultivate in their countries. Tueller

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