21 Apr 2023 10:04

U.S. concerned about Black Sea grain deal situation

WASHINGTON. April 21 (Interfax) - The U.S. Department of State has voiced concern about the situation that has recently been unfolding around the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

"Twice in the last two weeks, the Russian Federation's delegation at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul has prevented the continued inspection of ships seeking to sail into Ukraine ports to collect grain," Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press briefing on Thursday.

"The U.S. strongly supports the efforts of UN Secretary-General [Antonio] Guterres, in partnership with Turkey, to extend and expand this lifesaving initiative," Patel said.

On April 19, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul is experiencing problems with the registration of new ships and inspections, as the Ukrainian side first blocked the registration process in disagreement with Russia's proposals and then suspended any inspections, including those of outbound ships.

The sole reason for difficulties with inspections is actions of Ukrainian representatives and the UN: "the process of filing for registration with the Black Sea Grain Initiative is in the hands of Ukrainians, while the UN drafts inspection plans (of inbound and outbound vessels)," the statement said.

The grain deal was signed in Istanbul on July 22, 2022. The UN, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine signed two documents to open a grain corridor from three Ukrainian ports - Chernomorsk, Odessa and Yuzhny, and to enable Russian food and fertilizer exports. The initiative was extended for 120 days in November 2022. After the initiative expired on March 18, it was extended for another 60 days.

"In the absence of progress in the implementation of the Russia-UN Memorandum on normalizing Russian agricultural exports, Moscow has decided to reduce the period for which [the deal] is to be extended to 60 days, that is, until May 18," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement earlier.

On April 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was no progress in implementing the Russian part of the grain deal.

"As for the second part of Mr. Guterres' initiative [...], on this practically nothing has been done," Lavrov said at a press conference in Havana. Russia is finding possibilities to export goods to global markets but "does so not within, but despite the initiative" of the UN secretary-general, Lavrov said.

"To all our reminders and requests, they reply that they are trying, doing as much as possible, and will keep trying. But it will soon be nine months that the initiative has been in place, and they are still trying. I don't quite understand it," he said.