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Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to Meet Over Dam Dispute

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There is a renewed sense of urgency to hammer out a deal, but much remains to be resolved.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan will try to reach an agreement on the controversial Renaissance Dam, Iran stands accused of paying the Taliban bounties to attack U.S. troops, and Spain’s former king surfaces in the UAE.

Representatives of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt are expected to meet today to present their proposals for the management of Ethiopia’s controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. “The attendees decided to resume negotiations … to work on unifying the texts of the agreements submitted by the three countries,” the Sudanese water ministry said in a statement.

Damming the Nile. The dispute began in 2011 after Ethiopia broke ground on the $4.5 billion project on the Blue Nile—one of the river’s major tributaries which provides 80 percent of its waters. The Ethiopian government considers the dam to be a critical part of its future economic development, claiming it will provide 60 percent of Ethiopian households with electricity, as well as fresh water for its rapidly expanding population.

Threat to its neighbors. But the dam is a potential threat to the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan. For Egypt in particular, a huge proportion of its population lives along the banks of the Nile, relying on the river for irrigation and drinking water. Egyptian officials argue that damming the Nile closer to its source in Ethiopia could severely threaten the country’s water supply.

The controversy came to a head in July after Ethiopia began filling the reservoir, a move Egypt and Sudan both said could not happen until the three countries had agreed to a legally binding deal. In July, Foreign Policy’s Kathryn Salam rounded up our best coverage on the dam dispute.

Will this time be different? There have been several attempts to forge a long-term agreement between the three countries and international actors including the United States over the issue, but none have produced a lasting framework. Although the filling of the reservoir seems to have injected a renewed sense of urgency into the talks, there are still several hurdles that must be overcome before the issue can be settled.

Can the U.S. be an honest broker? Writing for FP in March, Addisu Lashitew argued that U.S. mediation had “ended up fueling tension in an already heated disagreement” due to perceptions of the Trump administration’s pro-Egyptian bias. “The U.S. government has also squandered its hard-won soft power in Ethiopia,” Lashitew wrote, noting that “Sticks and carrots from Washington are … unlikely to succeed in getting Ethiopia to step into a treaty that purportedly affects its right to use Nile waters,” especially in an election year when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is facing domestic unrest. That’s because the dam is a rare unifying issue and a source of national pride in Ethiopia.

What We’re Following Today

Intra-Afghan talks delayed. The long-awaited peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that were due to begin this week have been delayed after the Afghan government chose to withhold the release of the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners needed to kickstart the talks. The U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February stipulated that the Taliban would release 1,000 Afghan military personnel in exchange for the Afghan government releasing 5,000 Taliban fighters. This is considered a key precondition for the start of talks.

The process has been slow-moving and contentious, but a breakthrough was seemingly achieved earlier this month when the Afghan government agreed to release the final 400 of the 5,000 prisoners. On Monday, the government halted the release of prisoners, accusing the Taliban of not reciprocating. Talks were scheduled to begin on Thursday, but they have been postponed indefinitely.

Lukashenko on the ropes in Belarus. Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko told reporters that he would step down as president and hold new elections if a referendum on constitutional changes is held in a surprise turn that seems to suggest he is buckling under pressure from protesters. Massive protests have gripped the country since the hugely unpopular Lukashenko declared a landslide victory in presidential elections on Aug. 9. A brutal crackdown followed, prompting the EU to move forward with sanctions against key Belarusian officials.

Speaking from exile in Lithuania, Lukashenko’s main opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—who rejected the election results before being forced to flee the country—said she was prepared to step in for Lukashenko and “act as a national leader,” possibly during a transition period.

Iranian bounties to the Taliban. The Iranian government paid bounties to elements of the Taliban to carry out attacks on U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, according to a report from CNN. The bounties were paid out to militants in six different attacks, including the December 2019 attack on Bagram air base that left two dead and more than 70 injured, including four U.S. service members.

According to the report, Washington decided in March not to take retaliatory action over the revelation, apparently to preserve the burgeoning Afghan peace process and the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, which was then just weeks old. The report follows similar accusations that Russia had paid bounties to Taliban militants to conduct attacks on U.S. forces.

Keep an Eye On

Spain’s former king found. The Spanish royal palace confirmed that former King Juan Carlos has been in the United Arab Emirates since Aug. 3, after weeks of international speculation over the king’s whereabouts. On Aug. 3, Juan Carlos unexpectedly announced he was leaving Spain amid an investigation into charges of corruption during his reign. It was initially believed he had fled to the Dominican Republic, but the Dominican government denied knowledge of his entry into the country and could not find documentary evidence proving he was there.

Juan Carlos received praise for spearheading the country’s transition to democracy after the death of former dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, but his popularity plummeted in the final years of his reign as some of the murkier details of his activities as king became public. As Mark Nayler wrote in FP last week, the latest scandal could be the nail in the coffin for the Spanish monarchy.

U.S. tightens Huawei restrictions. On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a new round of sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, part of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back China’s economic influence in the United States. Companies will now have to acquire a license to sell microchips made using U.S. equipment to Huawei. The commerce department also said it would add an additional 38 companies to the sanctions list in order to ensure all of Huawei’s affiliates are included.

Odds and Ends

In a new record that’s bound to be broken again sooner rather than later, the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on earth is believed to have been reached in California’s Death Valley. At 130 degrees Fahrenheit, this figure topped the previous record of 129.2 degrees, which was recorded in 2013, also in Death Valley. A higher reading of 134 degrees was recorded in Death Valley in 1913, but that number is disputed.

The searing temperatures are part of a major heat wave currently hitting much of the southwestwern United States. Large parts of California have been left without power after the extreme heat caused a power plant to malfunction. Over the weekend, an intense wildfire in northern California produced a rare and dangerous weather phenomenon known as a “firenado”—a fire tornado.