ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Ethiopia's leader has vowed that no one will stop a $4.2 billion energy project that is diverting the flow of the Nile River after Egypt's president warned that all options were being considered to halt the dam.
In an interview aired on state television and radio, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said Tuesday that he did not think Egypt would start a war over the vital river.
"'All options' include a war. I don't think they will take that option unless they go mad," Hailemariam said during the interview. "I urge them to abandon such an unhelpful approach and return to dialogue and discussion."
Ethiopia started diverting the flow of the Nile River in late May to make way for its $4.2 billion hydroelectric plant, which will be Africa's largest. The project has been under construction for over two years on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia's Benishangul-Gumuz region near the Sudan border.
Egypt fears that the project will mean a diminished share of the Nile River.
Egyptian political leaders last week told President Mohammed Morsi to consider hostile acts against Ethiopia. Apparently unaware their discussion was being televised live, the leaders recommended spreading rumors, aiding rebels and even sabotaging the dam itself in a meeting with Morsi.
During the meeting, Morsi said that Egypt will not engage in any aggressive acts against Ethiopia. However, he hardened his stance on Monday, warning that "all options are open."
Hailemariam then accused Egyptian leaders of using the dam issue to divert attention away from local issues. He said it was wrong of Egyptian politicians to use the Nile dam as "a distraction to escape the strong domestic opposition they are facing."
A 10-person Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia experts' panel has concluded that the dam will not significantly affect water flow to both Egypt and Sudan, Hailemariam explained.
The finding of the experts' panel, which includes four international experts, was fully accepted by Sudan, Hailemariam said.
"I like to thank the government and people of Sudan for their support and determination to work for mutual benefit. Others should learn from this," he added.
In a further escalation of the conflict, the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry in a statement issued Tuesday condemned the "belligerent rhetoric" coming from Cairo. The ministry said Ethiopia "will not even for a second" stop the construction of the dam due to Cairo's rhetoric.
Ethiopia is currently leading a group of nine countries that signed the new Cooperative Framework Agreement for the Nile. The new agreement replaces colonial-era deals that awarded Cairo veto powers over projects on the Nile.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the agreement in 2010, and Burundi did so a year later. Sudan and Egypt have been strongly opposed to the deal.
Ethiopian parliament since April is reviewing the deal. It is expected to approve it in few days' time.