“They’ll blow up that dam”: Trump sparks Ethiopia tensions with “incitement of war”

US President Donald Trump sparked diplomatic tensions Friday when he suggested that Egypt could "blow up" the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Ethiopia is building on a tributary of the Nile.

It prompted Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to say his country would not "cave-in to aggressions of any kind".

And the Ethiopian foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador to explain Trump’s words, objecting to what it called Trump’s "incitement of war".

The president made the remarks on 23 October during a telephone call conducted in the presence of reporters with the prime ministers of Sudan and Israel, after the US brokered the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

In an exchange with Sudanese PM Abdalla Hamdok the conversation moved to the GERD, long a bone of serious contention between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Egypt especially fears that the 6GW hydroelectric scheme will lead to water shortages.

It relies on the Nile for nearly all its fresh water and objects to the speed of Ethiopia’s plans to fill the large reservoir of the dam on the Blue Nile.

Repeated rounds of talks, including ones brokered by the US, have failed to produce agreement.

Ethiopia began filling the reservoir in July.

That led the US to reduce scheduled aid to Ethiopia by some $74m, Reuters reported.

"They have to do something"

On the telephone call, Trump and Hamdok expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution, but Trump went on to say that "it’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way", reports BBC News.

He continued: "And I said it and I say it loud and clear, they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something."

On Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed released a statement affirming Ethiopia’s commitment to finishing the dam, which is being built by Italy’s Webuild, formerly Salini Impregilo.

It is understood to be more than 60% complete.

"Based on colonial treaties"

Abiy claimed talks with Sudan and Egypt had "shown significant progress" since the African Union assumed the role of broker in June this year.

"Nonetheless," Abiy said, "occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound. These threats and affronts to Ethiopian sovereignty are misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law."

He added: "Ethiopia will not cave-in to aggressions of any kind, nor do we give recognition to a right that is entirely based on colonial treaties."

"Incitement of war"

Also on Saturday, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew summoned US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mike Raynor, to seek clarification on Trump’s remarks.

Gedu said the president’s characterisation of the negotiation process was "misleading and wrong" because the GERD doesn’t stop the flow of the Nile, reports Ethiopian broadcaster, Fana.

According to Fana, Gedu said "the incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting US president neither reflects the longstanding partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations".

Image: President Donald Trump, 23 October, speaking by telephone with the prime ministers of Sudan and Israel (From the Twitter feed of Donald Trump)

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