Consensus reached on Istanbul center for Ukraine grain transit: Turkey

Turkey on Thursday said there is a consensus regarding establishing an operations center in Istanbul that will monitor the implementation of a potential sea corridor in the Black Sea to export grain from Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia also exports fertilizer and Ukraine corn and sunflower oil. But Ukrainian grain shipments from its Black Sea ports have stalled since Russia invaded, with some 20 million tons of grain stuck.

The U.N. has appealed to both countries, as well as maritime neighbor Turkey, to create a sea corridor for Ukrainian grains to be exported from the Black Sea. Turkey has been coordinating with Russia and Ukraine to agree to a plan that would restart grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

Ankara has held talks with Moscow and the U.N., but says all sides need to meet for a final agreement.

Turkey is hoping to arrange a four-way meeting in Istanbul in the coming weeks to discuss details of the U.N.-led plan that would open a safe shipping route to address a global food crisis brought on by Russia's invasion in February.

Ankara has offered to host an “observation mechanism” to be formed to monitor the implementation of the sea corridor plan in Istanbul.

"There is a general consensus on the establishment of an operations center in Istanbul," Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters on Thursday.

In line with the diplomatic efforts initiated by the Turkish leadership, “serious progress” has been achieved in forming the corridor, he said, adding that talks are ongoing with the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministers.

Akar’s remarks come after Russian and Turkish military officials met this week in Moscow to discuss the sea route, the safe departure of vessels at Ukrainian ports and the return of Turkish planes at Ukraine’s Borispol airport.

Turkey said the talks were lengthy, “positive and constructive.” The Russian Defense Ministry said the sides also discussed approaches to ensure safe navigation in the Black Sea.

“We are putting efforts at every level to ensure peace, tranquility, and cease-fire,” Akar said, noting that the meeting of the Turkish delegation with the counterparts in Moscow on June 21 was “productive and constructive.”

The talks are ongoing with the warring parties and the U.N. for establishing the grain corridor, he said.

Akar expressed hopes that the two sides would find common ground to address the transfer of grain, saying the Turkish government will hold talks with Ukraine and the U.N. to ensure further progress.

While Moscow wants certain Western sanctions lifted to help facilitate grain and fertilizer exports, Kyiv seeks security guarantees for its ports to agree to the U.N.-led plan.

“We consider that concrete steps could be taken in the days ahead, and positive developments could take place,” Akar said. “At this point, we see that the parties have a positive view of the matter ... Our expectation is that the grain-laden vessels would leave the ports and arrive at their destination safely.”

Asked if the Ukrainian administration sought some other actors to adopt the guarantor status, he said both sides bear many alternative scenarios in mind while taking action and Turkey is acting as a facilitator they genuinely trust./ AGENCIES