German FM in Iraq to address regional tensions

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sits in the C-160 Transall military plane at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 09 June 2019

German FM in Iraq to address regional tensions

  • Maas’s office said European nations must engage with the region at a time of heightened concern
  • Maas is scheduled to meet Iraq’s president, prime minister, and foreign minister to discuss regional security and investment

BAGHDAD: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived in Iraq on Saturday as part of a wider trip to the Middle East seeking to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the US.

In a statement, Maas’s office said European nations must engage with the region at a time of heightened concern following recent US naval movements in the Arabian Gulf.

“We cannot just call for dialogue; we must conduct it — particularly where differences appear unbridgeable and long-standing conflicts run deep. The danger that miscalculations, misunderstandings and provocations in a very tense region could lead to unpredictable consequences is clear there,” his office said.

The German envoy was expected to meet with Iraq’s president, prime minister and foreign minister to discuss regional security and bilateral relations and investment, said Ahmed Mahjoub, a spokesman for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry.

Iraq is courting tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment to rebuild its infrastructure and boost gas, oil, and electricity production, after 17 years of war.

In April, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said German industrial giant Siemens was favored to win a significant portion of some $14 billion worth of tenders to revamp the electricity sector.

Siemens already has contracts worth more than $700 million to build a power station and implement other improvements to Iraq’s failing electricity grid.

Maas’s visit was not announced ahead of time for security reasons. The foreign minister is expected in Iran on Monday. His office says Germany and Europe are determined to preserve the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, calling it a “key factor for stability and security in the region.”

The US withdrew from the accord last year and restored crippling sanctions on Iran. International monitors say there is no evidence that Iran is in breach of its obligations. The sanctions have squeezed Iran’s economy, causing oil exports to crash and contributing to soaring inflation.

Last month the US dispatched an aircraft carrier group and a bomber task force to the Arabian Gulf to counter what it said were threatening moves by Iran.


Egypt to press for outside mediator in Ethiopia dam dispute

Updated 20 October 2019

Egypt to press for outside mediator in Ethiopia dam dispute

  • Egyptian officials said they had suggested the World Bank as a fourth party mediator
  • Ethiopia has denied that three-way talks are stalled, accusing Egypt of trying to sidestep the process

CAIRO: Egypt will push Ethiopia this week to agree to an external mediator to help resolve a deepening dispute over a giant hydropower dam being built on Ethiopia's Blue Nile, officials said on Sunday.
Egypt sees the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as an existential risk, fearing it will threaten scarce water supplies in Egypt and power generation at its own dam in Aswan.
Cairo says it has exhausted efforts to reach an agreement on the conditions for operating GERD and filling the reservoir behind it, after years of three-party talks with Ethiopia and Sudan.
Ethiopia has denied that three-way talks are stalled, accusing Egypt of trying to sidestep the process.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to raise the demand for a mediator when he meets Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a Russian-African summit in Russia this week.
"We're hoping this meeting might produce an agreement on the participation of a fourth party," an Egyptian foreign ministry official told journalists at a briefing. "We're hopeful to reach a formula in the next few weeks."
Egyptian officials said they had suggested the World Bank as a fourth party mediator, but were also open to the role being filled by a country with technical experience on water sharing issues such as the United States, or the European Union.
Recent proposals put forward by Egypt for a flexible reservoir-filling process and a guaranteed annual flow of 40 billion cubic metres were rejected by Ethiopia.
The latest rounds of talks in Cairo and Khartoum over the past two months ended in acrimony. "The gap is getting wider," the Egyptian foreign ministry official said.
Egypt draws almost all of its fresh water supplies from the Nile, and is faced with worsening water scarcity for its population of nearly 100 million. It says it is working to reduce the amount of water used in agriculture.
Hydrologists consider a country to be facing water scarcity if supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person per year.
Egypt currently has around 570 cubic metres per person per year, a figure that is expected to drop to 500 cubic metres by 2025, without taking into account any reduction in supply caused by GERD, Egyptian officials said.
Ethiopia is expected to start filling the GERD reservoir next year.