Ethiopia to go on filling Nile mega-dam despite impasse: Minister

Downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan view the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters. (AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Ethiopia to go on filling Nile mega-dam despite impasse: Minister

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia said Wednesday it would not be deterred from impounding water at its Nile mega-dam, despite a persistent impasse with downstream countries worried about their water supply.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011.
Downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia considers it essential for its electrification and development.
The latest round of talks concluded Tuesday in Kinshasa with no resolution to long-running disputes over how the dam will be operated.
But Ethiopian water minister Seleshi Bekele told a press conference Wednesday that Ethiopia would continue filling the dam’s massive reservoir during the upcoming rainy season, which normally begins in June or July.
“As construction progresses, filling takes place,” Seleshi said.
“We don’t deviate from that at all.”
The reservoir has a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters.
Filling began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic meters — enough to test the dam’s first two turbines, an important milestone on the way toward actually producing energy.
The goal is to impound an additional 13.5 billion cubic meters this year.
Egypt and Sudan wanted a trilateral agreement on the dam’s operations to be reached before reservoir filling began.
But Ethiopia says filling is a natural part of the dam’s construction, and is thus impossible to postpone.
Last year Sudan said the filling process caused water shortages including in the capital Khartoum.
Seleshi disputed this Wednesday but said Ethiopia had offered to share data with Sudan during filling this year, adding that officials “don’t want to be made accountable for problems that we haven’t created.”
He complained, though, that Sudan and Egypt spent most of the time in Kinshasa pushing for an elevated role in negotiations for observers South Africa, the United States and the European Union.
Ethiopia has rejected this, saying it would undermine the process headed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, the current chair of the African Union.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said Tuesday it expected talks to resume later this month.
Egypt has described them as the last chance to reach an agreement, after President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said last week that the region faces “unimaginable instability” over the project.
Sudan’s foreign minister, Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, told reporters Tuesday that Ethiopia “threatens the people of the Nile basin, and Sudan directly.”
Seleshi on Wednesday played down the possibility that tensions over the dam would lead to conflict.
“This kind of thinking is unnecessary, and exaggerating this kind of thing doesn’t benefit any country,” he said.


Pentagon chief to visit Israel amid Iran talks

Updated 17 sec ago

Pentagon chief to visit Israel amid Iran talks

  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday

JERUSALEM: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday, the highest ranked member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Israel.
The two-day visit comes as the Biden administration attempts to return to an Iran nuclear deal abandoned by its predecessor — a deal Israel opposes.
Austin is expected to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
The trip will also include a tour of the Nevatim air force base and visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and to a Jerusalem memorial to fallen soldiers.
Austin arrives days after representatives of the remaining parties to the troubled 2015 nuclear deal launched talks in Vienna on bringing the United States back into it.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.
All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.
Israel opposes the US attempt to rejoin the accord.
Speaking last week, Netanyahu said Israel would not be bound by its terms.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” Netanyahu said in a speech on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Iran and Israel have both recently attacked each other’s commercial shipping, reports say.
Austin will also visit Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium on his tour, according to the Pentagon.

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Iran orders 10-day shutdown amid 4th wave of coronavirus pandemic

Updated 43 min 12 sec ago

Iran orders 10-day shutdown amid 4th wave of coronavirus pandemic

  • The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces, health ministry spokesman Alireza Raisi says
  • Iran has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East

Iran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country on Saturday to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, state media reported.
The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces, health ministry spokesman Alireza Raisi said. Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday.
Iran’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2 million with a new daily average of over 20,000 infections over the past week, according to the health ministry. It has reported more than 64,000 fatalities.
“Unfortunately, today we have entered a fourth wave,” President Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks. He blamed the surge foremost on the variant that first emerged in the UK which spread to Iran earlier this year from neighboring Iraq.
Other factors included widespread travel, weddings, and celebrations during the Iranian New Year holidays that began on March 20, he said.
The UK variant is now predominant in the country, and 257 cities and towns are in red alert, Raisi said.
Iran has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East. In February, it closed several crossing points with Iraq in an effort to stem the spread of the UK variant.
The country’s vaccination drive has also been slow going. Tehran says it has received more than 400,000 of 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and that it is awaiting delivery of 4.2 million AstraZeneca shots.
It has also received 250,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India’s COVAXIN.
With a population of 83 million, Iran had hoped to secure over 2 million vaccines by March 20 to vaccinate mainly health care workers. It is developing at least four local vaccine candidates, one in cooperation with Cuba, which are expected to reach production in a few months.


Iran starts up advanced centrifuges in new nuclear deal breach

Updated 10 April 2021

Iran starts up advanced centrifuges in new nuclear deal breach

  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant

TEHRAN: Iran announced Saturday it has started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings under a troubled 2015 nuclear deal, days after talks on rescuing it got underway.

President Hassan Rouhani officially inaugurated the cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

The television aired no images of the cascades but broadcast a link with engineers at the plant who said they had introduced uranium hexafluoride gas to the cascades after receiving the order from Rouhani.

Iran’s latest move to step up uranium enrichment follows an opening round of talks Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal on bringing the United States back into the deal.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.

The IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges allow uranium to be enriched more quickly and in greater amounts than the Iran’s first-generation devices, which are the only ones that the 2015 deal allows it to use.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

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Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

Updated 10 April 2021

Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

DJIBOUTI: Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term as president of Djibouti with more than 98 percent of the vote, according to provisional results announced by Interior Minister Moumin Ahmed Cheick Friday night.
“President Ismail Omar Guelleh obtained 167,535 votes, which is 98.58 percent,” he told public broadcaster RTD, adding that confirmed results would be released soon by the Constitutional Council.


US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

Updated 10 April 2021

US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

WASHINGTON: The United States offered “very serious” ideas to Iran on how to revive a nuclear deal during talks in Vienna but is waiting for Iran to show the same “seriousness,” a US official said Friday.
“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” the official told reporters as talks broke for the weekend.
But the official said the United States was waiting for its efforts to be “reciprocated” by Iran.
“We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There’s still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to... take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he said.
President Joe Biden supports a return to the 2015 agreement trashed by his predecessor Donald Trump under which Iran drastically scaled back nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.
Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.
Iran’s position is “not consistent with the deal itself because under the deal the US retains the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons, whether it’s terrorism or human rights violations or interference with our elections,” the official said.
“All sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and are inconsistent with the benefits that Iran expects from the JCPOA we are prepared to lift. That doesn’t mean all of them because there are some that are legitimate sanctions,” he said, using the acronym for the accord’s official name.
Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels. Talks are set to resume in the same format next week.