CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president on Wednesday met with Sudan's newly appointed prime minister before heading to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Abdalla Hamdok discussed bilateral relations, according to a statement from the Egyptian presidency. Ties between the two Nile Valley neighbors suffered from sporadic tensions during three decades of rule by Sudan's autocratic former president, Omar al-Bashir. Egypt is looking to start a new chapter since al-Bashir was ousted by his country's military in April following mass protests.
A power-sharing deal between the military and the protesters established a new administration that includes a cabinet headed by Hamdok. He had been scheduled to head to France to meet with President Emmanuel Macron, but the French Embassy in Sudan tweeted that the meeting was canceled because there was no time in Macron's agenda, and they were working to set a new date for the visit.
With Egypt, two diplomatic issues are at stake: A soon-to-be-finished Nile River dam being built by Ethiopia and a longstanding dispute over a border territory held by Egypt and claimed by Sudan.
Egypt fears the dam could reduce its share of the Nile River, which serves as a lifeline for the country's 100 million people. Ethiopia has roughly the same population and says the dam will help its economic development.
El-Sissi's government wants Sudan's support in the Nile dam dispute, as both nations are downriver from the $5 billion project, set to be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam.
The most recent round of talks in Cairo earlier this week failed to make progress.
Ethiopia hasn't revealed how quickly it wants to fill the reservoir, which would affect the amount of water available for Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt wants Ethiopia to fill the dam's reservoir over a longer period of time — seven years — and to release 40 billion cubic meters of water every year, according to Sileshi Bekele, Ethiopia's minister of water and irrigation.
He said Egypt's most recent proposal was not acceptable as "it is against Ethiopia's interest," in comments carried Wednesday by Ethiopia's state-run broadcaster, EBC.
However, an Egyptian official said the two countries had agreed that the first of five stages for filling the dam should take two years. After these five stages, all the dam's hydroelectric turbines would be able to operate.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the first period could be extended in case of extreme drought on Ethiopia's Blue Nile, such as the one experienced in 1979-1980.
Associated Press writer Elias Meseret contributed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.