WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Thursday welcomed a U.N.-brokered agreement in principle for Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports to resume, but said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing the deal.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price made the comment at a regular news briefing after Turkey announced that Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will sign a deal on Friday.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stalled grain exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and some 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos at Odesa port.
"We should never have been in this position in the first place," Price said. "This was a deliberate decision on the part of the Russian Federation to weaponize food.
"What we have heard within that past couple of hours is a welcome development, but what will really matter is the implementation of this agreement. We will of course continue to work with our partners to hold Russia accountable for its implementation."
Russia and Ukraine are both major global wheat suppliers, but Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor sent food prices soaring and stoked an international food crisis.
Moscow has denied responsibility for worsening the food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect from Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining its Black Sea ports.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, David Brunnstrom and Ismail Shakil; editing by Grant McCool)