Russia, Ukraine and Turkey will gather on Friday to sign a deal proposed by the United Nations to free up grain exports from Ukraine’s besieged Black Sea ports, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s office says.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who earlier announced that he was heading to Istanbul on Thursday, will attend the event along with Erdogan at the Dolmabahce Palace offices at 13:30 GMT, the statement said.
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“The grain export agreement, critically important for global food security, will be signed in Istanbul tomorrow under the auspices of President Erdoğan and UN Secretary General Mr. Guterres together with Ukrainian and Russian delegations,” Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a tweet.
Russia and Ukraine are both major global wheat suppliers and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent food prices soaring.
Guterres has been working on a plan that would enable Ukraine to export millions of tonnes of grain stockpiles that have been stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports due to the war – a move that could ease a global food crisis. At least 22 million tonnes of grain are stuck in Ukraine.
Last week, the sides met in Istanbul, reaching a tentative agreement on the plan, which foresees joint controls of ships as they leave and arrive at Black Sea ports and a mechanism to ensure the safety of the transfer routes, Turkish officials said.
‘Working around the clock’
A coordination centre for the shipping of exports would be established in Istanbul and would include UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the fact that Guterres was travelling to Istanbul means “we’re moving ahead” on the deal. UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, whom Guterres put in charge of the Ukraine side of the deal, and Rebeca Grynspan, head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, in charge of the Russian side of the deal, were already in Istanbul.
“We’ve been working around the clock, with intense behind-the-scenes talks with countless moving parts,” Haq said.
With the growing global food crisis, Haq said if an agreement is reached “we can potentially save hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of people, from having food be priced out of their reach”.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said the upcoming agreement was expected to clarify the modality for inspections aboard the transiting vessels and the guarantees to their safe passage.
Russia has set inspections as a precondition as it seeks to prevent military equipment from reaching Ukraine. Kyiv has expressed concern about the safety of its ships as they leave the Odesa port, which is heavily mined.
Koseoglu said de-mining was unlikely to occur but that the parties were expected to agree on corridors for safe passage.
The United States welcomed the deal and said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing it.
“We should never have been in this position in the first place,” US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said. “This was a deliberate decision on the part of the Russian Federation to weaponise food.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said late on Thursday that another UN-led round of talks to unblock Ukrainian grain exports would take place in Turkey on Friday.
“In summary, a document may be signed which will bind the sides to (ensure) safe functioning of export routes in the Black sea,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko told the Reuters news agency.
The Kremlin spokesman declined to comment on the Turkish announcement. Dmitry Peskov said it was a question “for the [Russian] military”.
The UN and Turkey have been working for two months to broker what Guterres called a “package” deal – to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports and facilitate Russian grain and fertiliser shipments.
Ukraine could potentially restart exports quickly, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister Taras Vysotskiy said earlier on Thursday.
“The majority of the infrastructure of ports of wider Odesa – there are three of them – remains, so it is a question of several weeks in the event there are proper security guarantees,” he told Ukrainian television.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments.
Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines at the ports to allow safe shipping. Russia has also insisted on its right to check the incoming ships for weapons.
Ukraine has sought international guarantees that the Kremlin will not use the safe corridors to attack Ukraine’s key Black Sea port of Odesa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from its eastern regions to sell and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.