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Ethiopia accuses Trump of ‘incitement of war’ over remarks that Egypt will ‘blow up’ disputed dam

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam undergoes construction work in Guba in the Benishangul-Gumuz region in 2019. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

Ethiopia accused President Trump on Saturday of “incitement of war” between Addis Ababa and Cairo, a day after Trump said Egypt will “blow up” a contentious Ethiopian dam.

The two countries, connected by the Blue and White Nile rivers, have been at odds over Ethiopia’s hydropower dam and regional water-sharing plans for years. Ethiopia sees its nearly completed $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a vital national project to spring millions out of poverty. But further downstream, Egypt has deemed it an existential threat over worries it will disrupt water access for its booming population.

Africa’s largest dam powers dreams of prosperity in Ethiopia — and fears of hunger in Egypt

The long-standing tensions burst open again Friday, when Trump was on a call with Sudan and Israel to announce a deal to begin normalizing relations between the two former enemies. Trump’s comments then veered toward the dam dispute that also involves Sudan, which is located between Egypt and Ethiopia.

“[Egypt] will end up blowing up the dam,” Trump said. “And I said it and I say it loud and clear … they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”

In response Saturday, Ethiopia’s foreign minister said in a statement that “the incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting U.S. president neither reflects the long-standing partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations,” the Associated Press reported. He summoned the U.S. ambassador for clarification.

Ethiopia’s former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, also weighed in, tweeting Saturday of Trump that “the man doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office also issued a statement Saturday criticizing the nature of the comments, though it did not directly name Trump, the AP reported.

“Occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound,” the statement said. “These threats and affronts to Ethiopian sovereignty are misguided, unproductive, and clear violations of international law.”

The prime minister’s office added, “Ethiopia will not cave in to aggressions of any kind.”

The United States tried to broker a deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the Nile River impasse. But Addis Ababa accused Washington of being biased in its efforts and ultimately walked away from negotiations.

Then, in September, under Trump’s directives, the State Department suspended millions of dollars of foreign aid to Ethiopia after it began filling up a reservoir located behind the dam.

“They will never see that money unless they adhere to that agreement,” Trump said Friday.

Egypt — whose president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Trump has called his “favorite dictator” — warned in February that it could use “all available means” to defend itself against the dam.

Friday’s news also caused consternation in Sudan, where the entente with Israel has been met with heavy skepticism. Sudan is in period of political transition coupled with an economic crisis after the populace-led ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir last year.

In need of economic relief, the leaders of Sudan’s transitional government have been lobbying Washington to remove the country from the U.S. terrorism list to spur new investment and banking opportunities.

Trump signed an executive order doing so Friday — a move seen as a condition for Sudan to agree to the U.S.-backed agreement with Israel. Sudan is the third Arab country to begin to normalize ties with Israel in recent weeks.

Sudan’s former prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, on Saturday blasted the development, calling Trump racist and warning that the deal would jeopardize the integrity of the fragile transitional government made up of civilian and military leaders.

“This statement contradicts the Sudanese national law and contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and to preparing for the ignition of a new war,” al-Mahdi said in a letter, the AP reported.

Recent deals between the leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have sparked criticism among Arab publics for excluding the interests of Palestinians, who are locked in a decades-old conflict with Israel.

Mahdi is the head of Sudan’s largest political party, which is aligned with the country’s pro-democracy movement. The transitional government has pledged to hold elections in 2022, after which the country will form a new parliament that under Sudanese law must ratify any normalization deal with Israel.