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Egypt Said To Be In Talks With Ethiopia Over Nile Dam Plan

A May 28 photo shows the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, during a diversion ceremony for the country's dam project. Egypt says it is against the plan.
AFP/Getty Images
A May 28 photo shows the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, during a diversion ceremony for the country's dam project. Egypt says it is against the plan.

Egypt's leaders are negotiating with Ethiopia over a Nile River dam project the Ethiopians have begun building, according to reports. The news comes after a week of forceful talk about the dam project, including one session with Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi in which politicians discussed armed intervention, apparently not aware their words were being broadcast on live television.

"We are in the midst of negotiations," an anonymous Egyptian official tells Agence France-Presse. The official stressed the vital importance of the Nile to Egypt, but he also said Morsi did not mean to threaten Ethiopia with war.

On Monday, Morsi warned Ethiopia that "all options are open" in dealing with what his government sees as a security issue. Egypt relies on the Nile for both agriculture and hydroelectric power.

"If a single drop of the Nile is lost, our blood will be the alternative," Morsi said.

Those words were similar in tone to statements from a meeting last Monday, when several of Egypt's political leaders used a meeting with Morsi to air their ideas about how to deal with Ethiopia's plans for a dam, apparently unaware that the meeting was not "secret," as one of them said, but was in fact being broadcast live on state television.

The options discussed at that session ranged from a clandestine attack by special forces to a threat of an air strike. The idea of supporting Ethiopian rebels with the aim of undermining the central government also came up.

After news of that gaffe spread, Ethiopia's government summoned the Egyptian ambassador to demand an explanation for the "hostile remarks."

Tuesday, a spokesman for Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry told Reuters that "Ethiopia is not intimidated by Egypt's psychological warfare and won't halt the dam's construction, even for seconds."

Ethiopia has said it hopes that the $4.7 billion project will help it become Africa's largest exporter of electric power.

Many observers have noted that the dam project gives Morsi a rallying point to urge Egypt's political factions to come together for a common cause. But the largest opposition group rejected reconciliation talks Tuesday.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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