Despite halting Moscow's participation in the Black Sea grain deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin wants the agreement to continue.
"Despite the statement today, I believe that Russian President Putin wants this humanitarian bridge to continue," Erdogan said at a news conference in Istanbul before heading to Saudi Arabia for an official visit.
Erdogan's remarks came soon after the Kremlin announced its suspension of the grain deal, which is expiring Monday.
The Black Sea grain agreement went down in history as a diplomatic success, Erdogan stressed, adding that Türkiye has always attached importance on the initiative's continuation and has intensified diplomatic efforts to this end.
Erdogan said Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will discuss the deal over the phone, expressing hope that it will continue "without interruption."
"Besides, we may take steps via a phone call with Putin without waiting for August," he added.
Previously, Erdogan said Putin is expected to visit Türkiye in August to discuss bilateral relations and regional issues.
"We will also consult (with each other) on how we can act to pave the way for the shipment of Russian grain and fertilizer," Erdogan said.
A year ago, Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement in Istanbul to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports which had been paused after the Russia-Ukraine war began that February.
A Joint Coordination Center was set up in Istanbul with officials from the three countries and the UN to oversee the shipments.
Before embarking on a three-day Gulf tour to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Erdogan said mutually beneficial joint investments and commercial activities would be the visits' primary agenda.
"We continue our work in line with our goal of creating a zone of peace, stability and prosperity around Türkiye. The most critical step for this is to strengthen our relations with the countries of the region," he added.
Noting that total bilateral trade between Türkiye and the Gulf nations had increased to $22 billion from $1.6 billion over the past two decades, Erdogan said: "During our visits, we will have the opportunity to talk in detail about how we will help our brotherly countries."
In the last 20 years, Turkish contractors have undertaken approximately $25 billion in projects in Saudi Arabia, he added, underlining: "We want Turkish companies to play a greater role in Saudi Arabia's large-scale projects."
Erdogan also stressed that crises in the Islamic world required close consultation and cooperation between Türkiye and the Gulf countries.
On normalization of Türkiye's ties with Syria and a possible meeting with Syria's Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan said: "We are not in a position to close the door with Syria."
He also signaled that he would meet al-Assad on the margins of a four-way meeting between Türkiye, Russia, Iran, and Syria.
"We are not against meeting with Assad. We could (meet). It's all about the way they approach us," he said.
Taking part in a quadrilateral meeting in Moscow, the foreign ministers of Türkiye and Syria on May 10 held the first high-level talks between the two neighbors since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
Erdogan ruled out the possibility of Türkiye withdrawing from areas in northern Syria where it has conducted anti-terror operations since 2016.
"Right now, unfortunately, Assad wants Türkiye to leave northern Syria. There can be no such thing. We are fighting against terrorism there," he said.
"There is a Türkiye that is constantly under threat from there. Can he use the same expression for different countries? He can't. So we're looking for a fair approach," Erdogan stressed.
Since 2016, Türkiye has launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and to enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (2019).
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