Black Sea grain deal is close, says Erdoğan

ROME — Moscow and Kyiv may be just days from finalizing an agreement to allow millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to pass through the Black Sea, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In peacetime, Ukraine was a vast contributor to global food supplies, but a blockade of its Black Sea ports since the invasion by Russia has prevented the shipping of crops leaving for Egypt, Yemen and other countries in desperate need. Russia has also attacked Ukrainian grain silos and is alleged to have seized stocks.

Turkey is attempting to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine. The government in Kyiv wants Turkey to provide security guarantees to ships carrying the grain through the Black Sea.

“Negotiations are going ahead so that this grain, and sunflower oil, everything can reach the world,” Erdoğan told a press conference in Ankara. “In a week or 10 days we will intensify the talks and try to arrive at a result.”

The Turkish leader said safe passage for commercial shipping was very important because, while his own country was not yet suffering grain shortages, Africa was already facing “a huge problem.”

He was speaking at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, after talks between the two governments.

Draghi said that Turkey had “a central role” in the plan, which he said had been outlined at the G7 meeting of leading economies by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. “That role is to guarantee the security of ships, and ensure that the ships don’t carry arms” Draghi said.

Draghi said the plan was “very encouraging” as it did not require demining of the ports, potential routes had already been identified, and the working group had been established. The missing element was “the final agreement of the Kremlin,” he said.

The deal also has “a very high strategic value” as it could pave the way for a negotiated peace, Draghi added. “In the context of efforts to reach peace, this is a first step to agreement, for an objective that must involve of all of us because it affects the lives of million of people in the poorest countries,” he said.