By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin a “way forward aimed at the improvement, extension and expansion” of a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain, a U.N. spokesperson said on Monday.
Guterres outlined his proposal in a letter that he asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to deliver to Putin, deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement after Guterres and Lavrov met in New York.
Lavrov did not answer questions on his way in or out of the 90-minute meeting with Guterres. Guterres took note of Russia’s concerns about its own grain and fertilizer exports, Haq said.
“He provided a detailed report on the progress already achieved in this regard and reiterated the United Nations’ commitment to continue working to address remaining issues,” Haq said.
Lavrov was quoted by TASS news agency as saying that Moscow would study the letter.
“The secretary general talked about the efforts he is making to move the Russian part of this deal as far as possible,” TASS quoted Lavrov as saying. “So far the progress, frankly, is not very noticeable.”
Russia has signaled it will not allow the deal – brokered by the U.N. and Turkey and agreed by Russia and Ukraine in July last year – to continue beyond May 18 because a list of demands for its exports has not been met.
Haq said the letter to Putin takes “into account positions recently expressed by the parties and the risks posed by global food insecurity.” He said similar letters have also been sent to Ukraine and Turkey.
The deal was intended to help tackle a global food crisis that U.N. officials said had been worsened by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume Black Sea grain exports, a separate three-year pact was also struck in which the U.N. agreed to help Russia export food and fertilizer.
Lavrov is in New York to chair two U.N. Security Council meetings on Monday and Tuesday because Russia holds the monthly rotating presidency of the 15-member body.
The United Nations has said that there were still impediments to the agreement, particularly in relation to payment systems.
Russia’s demands include allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the SWIFT banking system, allowing the supply to Russia of agricultural machinery and spare parts and a lifting of restrictions on insurance.
Moscow also wants access to ports for Russian ships and cargo, a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port to be restarted, and accounts and financial activities of Russian fertilizer companies to be unblocked.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that late last month Guterres proposed that Turkish banks could help process payments to Russia, but Turkey wanted assurances that its banks would not face sanctions.
Cavusoglu told TV 100 channel that the Turkish Banks Association was working on a possible formula.
During a Security Council meeting on Monday, Guterres urged the parties to continue with both grain and fertilizer agreements.
“They clearly demonstrate that such cooperation is essential to creating greater security and prosperity for all,” he said.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters that Beijing would like to see the Ukraine grain deal continue.
“Of course, that’s beneficial for the whole world.”
China, a strategic partner of Russia, is the largest recipient of grains from Ukraine under the agreement.
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