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NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded at a Group of 20 meeting attended by Russia that Moscow renew a deal to allow exports of Ukrainian grain.

“Russia has deliberately and systematically slowed its pace of inspections, creating a backlog of ships that could be delivering food to the world today,” Blinken told foreign ministers from the club of major economies meeting in New Delhi.

“It is imperative the G20 speak up on behalf of extending and expanding the grain initiative to strengthen food security for the most vulnerable,” Blinken said, according to his prepared remarks.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the UN with Turkey last July and has helped reduce spiralling food prices that contributed to hunger in the developing world. The deal is set to expire this month.

The deal was renewed in November but UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has warned of difficulties in securing another extension before it expires on March 18.

The agreement has allowed the export of some 20 million tonnes of grain. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had held up ships from the major breadbasket, with Moscow voicing concern over Ukrainian naval action.

Under last year’s deal, Russia in turn was promised the right to export fertiliser free of Western sanctions. Moscow insists that part of the agreement is not being respected.

Modi calls for unity at G20 dominated by Ukraine

The United States says it has not targeted fertiliser or other agriculture as part of its sweeping sanctions on Russia.

Russia’s “own food and grain exports exceed pre-invasion levels and its fertiliser exports are back to where they were last February,” Blinken said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is attending the New Delhi talks but Blinken says he will refuse to see him individually, believing Moscow is not serious about diplomacy to end the war.

“Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine, deliberate campaign of destruction against civilian targets and its attack on the core principles of the UN Charter,” Blinken told G20 delegates.

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