Istanbul [Turkey], June 9: Turkey supports Ukraine's NATO membership aspirations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Istanbul, days before a summit of the military alliance's leaders.
"Ukraine undoubtedly deserves NATO membership," Erdogan told a joint press conference with Zelenskiy in Istanbul early Saturday. Zelenskiy thanked Erdogan for his support ahead of the NATO summit set for Tuesday in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Ukrainian leader is expected to participate in the summit.
Zelenskiy had recently said he expected an official invitation for his country to join NATO. On Friday, however, the US dampened Ukraine's hopes of any rapid accession to the alliance, by saying the summit would not result in a NATO invitation.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullian said that Vilnius "will be an important moment on that pathway towards membership," but that Ukraine has "further steps it needs to take before membership in NATO."
NATO countries have been debate when and how Ukraine can become a member and under what circumstances. Members such as Germany insist that certain conditions must be met, including the military being under civilian and democratic control.
Asked about the Black Sea grain deal, Erdogan said he "hopes" the deal will initially be extended for three months following ongoing negotiations with Russia.
The grain deal brokered by Turkey and the UN, which since last summer has allowed ships to carry Ukrainian food exports from Black Sea ports despite the ongoing war with Russia, is set to expire on July 17.
The deal could be extended for as long as long as another two years, Erdogan suggested, adding he will raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his planned visit to Turkey "next mont".
Zelenskiy accused Moscow of blocking ships from Ukraine's Odessa port over the past few days. "Russia is behaving as if they own the entire Black Sea," the Ukrainian president said.
"The food safety of many people in Africa, Asia and Europe depends on our cooperation," Zelenskiy added.
Ukraine is among the world's largest grain producers and its exports are seen as vital to stabilizing world food prices. Russia earlier said it is against renewing the deal citing troubles in Russian agricultural exports as one reason.
Source: Qatar Tribune