By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Michelle Nichols
ANKARA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said he wants a general agreement reached between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations on a U.N.-led plan to resume Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports to be put in writing this week.
Ankara on Monday said that a meeting between the four parties would “probably” be held this week. The Ukraine war has sent prices soaring for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer, stoking a global food crisis.
“An agreement emerged from the talks in Istanbul last week on the general outline of the process under the U.N. plan. Now, we want to tie this agreement to a written document,” Erdogan told reporters on a return flight from Tehran, where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We hope the plan will begin to be implemented in the coming days,” Erdogan added, according to a transcript of his comments from the Turkish presidency.
Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its ports has stalled exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and some 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa.
Moscow has denied responsibility for worsening the food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect from Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining its Black Sea ports.
While U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is on vacation, “all day he has been working the phones” and speaking with different leaders, deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Wednesday. He declined to say who Guterres had spoken with.
“He’s trying to make as much progress as we can on this right now,” said Haq, without giving further details. Guterres told reporters last week: “I’m optimistic, but it’s not yet fully done.”
Ukraine and Russia are major global wheat suppliers, and Russia is also a large fertilizer exporter, while Ukraine is a significant producer of corn and sunflower oil.
Before the talks a week ago, diplomats said details of the plan included Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters; Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move; and Turkey – supported by the United Nations – inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday that Washington was encouraging the United Nations in its efforts to broker a deal on Ukraine grain exports.
“But we will also be watching the Russians and hold them accountable for any agreement that they should make with the U.N,” she said. “We thought we might even hear that an announcement would happen today. So far, it hasn’t happened.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Yesim Dikmen; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daren Butler and Grant McCool)