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U.N. aid chief 'relatively optimistic' on Black Sea grain deal

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Wednesday that he was "relatively optimistic" that a U.N.-brokered deal that allowed a resumption of Ukraine Black Sea grain exports would be extended beyond mid-November.

Griffiths traveled to Moscow with senior U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan earlier this month for discussions with Russian officials on the deal, which also aims to facilitate exports of Russian grain and fertilizer to global markets.

Under the July 22 agreement, Ukraine was able to restart its Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports, which had stalled when Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24. The Ukraine export deal was initially agreed for 120 days.

"We are keen to see that renewed promptly, now. It's important for the market. It's important for just continuity. And I'm still relatively optimistic that we're going to get that. We're working hard," Griffiths told reporters.

The United Nations is working to extend the deal for up to a year and smooth the joint inspections of ships by U.N., Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials. The United Nations recently warned was a backlog of more than 150 ships.

"I think we should have another look at some of those (procedures) to see if they may be simplified in some way," Griffiths said.

A U.N. official has also suggested that Ukraine could seek to expand the export deal to include another port: Mykolaiv.

Russia has criticized the deal, complaining that its own exports were still hindered and not enough Ukraine grain was reaching countries in need. Moscow could object to extending the pact on Ukraine's exports beyond late November.

"This agreement was signed by all people on basis that it's a commercial enterprise," Griffiths said.

"We would not have the volume if it hadn't been a private sector-driven enterprise. Everybody knows this - Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and us knew that that's the basis of the operation," he said. "It was not intended at the time to be an operation which was all humanitarian."

He said the deal had brought down prices, boosted export quantities and improved confidence, adding that the deal was "doing what we negotiated, and I don't think anybody need have any doubt about that." (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis)

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