Egypt's leader meets US treasury chief ahead of Sudan visit

FILE - In this June 28, 2013 file photo, construction work takes place, at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa, Ethiopia. Officials said Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan resumed their years-long negotiations over a controversial dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile. The resumption Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, came six weeks after Sudan boycotted talks in November. (AP Photo/Elias Asmare, File)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin in Cairo, ahead of Mnuchin’s first visit to Sudan since the end of Khartoum’s pariah status.

The office of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in a statement the president and Mnuchin discussed mutual and regional issues, including the latest developments in talks with Sudan and Ethiopia over a disputed dam that Ethiopia is building over the Blue Nile River.

The statement said el-Sissi appreciated U.S. efforts in the dam talks last year that resulted in a U.S.-crafted draft deal to resolve the yearslong dispute over the massive project.

The three Nile Valley countries met Sunday in the latest push by South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, which is mediating a deal between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Experts from the three nations and the AU were to meet Monday, but Sudan boycotted the meeting and insisted on a greater role for AU experts in the negotiations.

Egypt initialed the draft deal, crafted by the United States in February, but Ethiopia did not attend the signing ceremony and accused President Donald Trump’s administration of siding with Egypt. Sudan attended the meeting but did not sign.

The U.S. has suspended some aid to Ethiopia over the “lack of progress” in the talks and U.S. “concern about Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place.”

Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam has caused severe tensions between the three nations.

Mnuchin was scheduled to travel to Sudan's capital Khartoum on Wednesday to meet with the country’s leaders, according to Sudan’s state-run SUNA news agency.

It would be the first visit by a senior U.S. official since Washington last month approved the removal of Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

SUNA’s report said Mnuchin would discuss with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok possible U.S. economic aid debt relief. It did not give further details.

Mnuchin said last month he would work with Congress and the transitional government in Khartoum to advance Sudan’s efforts to secure debt relief in 2021.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.