Turkey says Black Sea grain deal extension nearing

Palau flagged bulker MKK1, carrying grain under UN’s Black Sea grain initiative, is towed free after running aground in Istanbul's Bosphorus

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Parties to the Black Sea grain pact are nearing a deal to extend it after talks between Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and United Nations officials, Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Russia has threatened to quit the agreement on May 18 over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports and the four parties discussed U.N. proposals to extend the deal on Thursday.

"(The parties) are approaching an agreement on an extension of the grain agreement period," Akar said in a statement released by the defence ministry on Friday.

Two days of talks in Istanbul had appeared to end without Russian agreement on an extension.

The U.N. and Turkey brokered the Black Sea agreement in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that has been worsened by Moscow's war in Ukraine. At the same time, the U.N. agreed to help Moscow facilitate its own agricultural shipments.

The Kremlin said early on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin could speak with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at short notice if needed regarding an extension of the deal, but that there were no such plans yet.

Akar also said he had been told that an agreement was reached on the return to Turkey of six Turkish merchant vessels currently in Ukrainian ports.

(Reporting by Mert Ozkan; Writing by Daren Butler;Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Alexander Smith)