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Russia's foreign minister to begin talks with Turkey

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The war in Ukraine has disrupted one of the world's great sources of grain. In normal times, Ukrainian grain is loaded onto ships in the Black Sea and goes on to many countries. But those ports have been closed since Russian warships joined the attack on Ukraine. This was a subject today as Russia's foreign minister met the top diplomat of neighboring Turkey, which would like the grain shipments flowing once again. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been watching what's happening from his base in Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Once the meeting broke up, Sergey Lavrov and Mevlut Cavusoglu came out for a news conference. The Turkish foreign minister said it's vital that all sides agree to a mechanism to get these exports moving again. And he added, if those exports are allowed to resume, then Russia should get serious consideration for its demand that Western sanctions against it be lifted. For his part, Lavrov sounded fairly diplomatic. He called on all sides to respect international treaties. He said Russia does need to have its security concerns addressed. So it basically sounds like these talks could help move things toward a diplomatic track and, possibly, a solution. Lavrov also said they are trying to minimize civilian damaging casualties. There'd be some dispute about that. But of course, we'll have to see what happens next.

INSKEEP: I'm just trying to figure out the mechanics of this. So they grow the grain in Ukraine on the planes. They get it into Black Sea ports in normal times. And doesn't it normally go right past your home there in Istanbul on the way to the Middle East and Africa and places like that?

KENYON: Well, it does. There are a lot of interesting vessels that come up and down the Bosporus strait. And those grain ships were certainly part of it, not so many recently.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KENYON: But if these talks are successful, then hopefully that will soon resume, because this is a lot of grain for Africa and the Middle East.

INSKEEP: And then help me understand because it's Turkey that's now making this ask. And I see that Turkey is on the route. But do they have leverage somehow? Do they have anything they can offer or push on Russia to allow the grain through?

KENYON: I'm not sure it's a question of pushing and pressuring and powerful leverage. There is this convention called the Montreux Convention. And it does charge Turkey with administering the passage of vessels up and down, to and from the Black Sea. It's largely a matter of them getting advance notification. It isn't so much that Turkey can just put its foot down and say, no. But they clearly have a big interest here. They are trying to be the front edge of the diplomatic push to resolve the issue.

INSKEEP: So tell me about one other thing going on here, because we know about the Russian ships, those that haven't been sunk, which are in the Black Sea and declared these ports closed on the Ukrainian coast. But isn't there an issue of Ukrainian mines or somebody's mines in the water?

KENYON: There is very much. It's a big Russian concern that mines, particularly around Odesa, be removed and cleaned up. And that, according to a foreign policy analyst I spoke with - his name is Yoruk Isik. He's based here in Istanbul. He says it sounds like a reasonable demand, but it entails possibly great risk for Ukraine if it does de-mine Odesa. Here's a bit of what he said.

YORUK ISIK: So now they are telling us, of course, they should de-mine - the Ukrainians de-mine the Odesa port. Of course, there is absolutely no issues. What the world is promising to Ukraine, that Russians won't suddenly change their mind and invade the only remaining Black Sea port area that Ukraine still have.

KENYON: So he says, it may look bad now, but things could get much worse for Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks for the insights, really appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.