U.S. to de-link Ethiopian aid pause from dam policy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday said Washington will de-link its pause on some aid to Ethiopia from its policy on the giant Blue Nile hydropower dam that sparked a long-running dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that President Joe Biden's administration will review U.S. policy on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and will assess the role the administration can play in facilitating a solution between the countries.

A bitter dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the filling and operation of the dam remains unresolved even after the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.

"We continue to support collaborative and constructive efforts by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to reach an agreement on the GERD," Price said.

The temporary pause on certain U.S. foreign assistance to Ethiopia affects $272 million in development and security assistance to Ethiopia, Price said, adding that the resumption of assistance will be assessed on a number of factors and that the decision has been shared with Addis Ababa.

Among the factors assessed will be "whether each paused program remains appropriate and timely in light of developments in Ethiopia that occurred subsequent to the pause being put in place," a State Department spokesperson said.

The United States has expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where the central government has claimed victory over a rebellious regional government in a conflict that began in November.

Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam after the summer rains last year despite demands from Egypt and Sudan that it should first reach a binding agreement on the dam's operation.

Egypt views the dam as a major threat to its fresh water supplies, more than 90% of which come from the Nile. The Blue Nile flows north into Sudan then Egypt and is the Nile's main tributary.

Ethiopia says the dam is crucial to its economic development.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump said Ethiopia had broken a U.S.-brokered agreement to resolve the dispute, forcing him to cut funds. The United States cut $100 million in aid to Ethiopia in September.

Ethiopia in October summoned the U.S. ambassador over what it called an "incitement of war" between Ethiopia and Egypt from Trump over their dispute.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)