(Bloomberg) -- South Africa is working to persuade Russia to return to talks on a Ukraine grain-export deal that it pulled out of last month, nearly a year after it was reached.

“We are also working hard to persuade the Russian side to address the Black Sea grain deal and interacting with all the relevant parties to see whether we could find a solution to ensure an opening of the Black Sea initiative,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in Pretoria during talks with her Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, on Tuesday.

Last week, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin defended his nation’s withdrawal from the grain deal at a summit with African leaders whose nations are feeling the impact of rising food prices stoked by his war in Ukraine. South Africa was excluded from a promise of free grain that Putin made at the gathering to six African countries with strong ties with Moscow.

Read More: Putin Rewards African Allies With Promise of Free Grain 

Hayashi told Pandor that Japan “deplores” Russia’s ending of the grain initiative and hopes to work toward its resumption, according to a statement from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two ministers affirmed the need for both countries to cooperate on food security in Africa, the ministry said. 

Pandor also explained the outcome of the Russia-Africa summit, according to the statement. Hayashi is on a tour of African nations it sees as relatively friendly toward Russia, with Uganda and Ethiopia next on the agenda. 

South Africa has adopted a non-aligned stance toward the war in Ukraine that has drawn criticism from some of its largest trading partners, including the US.

Almost four months ago, Japan invited an African Union representative to a Group of Seven summit that was attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and excluded regular attendee South Africa. Pandor told the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times newspaper at the time that she wasn’t sure how “they missed South Africa but it’s not a big deal.”

Read: Putin, Facing Arrest Risk, to Skip BRICS Summit in South Africa

The decision came after South Africa took part in joint military exercises with Russia and China.

At Tuesday’s event, Pandor said South Africa would continue to seek an end to the conflict in Ukraine. “Our country remains non-aligned in this conflict as we regard all wars as wars that we should not take sides on,” she said.  

--With assistance from Isabel Reynolds and Jon Herskovitz.

(Updates with Japan statement from fourth paragraph.)

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.