By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. is working with Romania and Moldova to increase Ukraine's grain exports via the Danube river as it explores alternative routes the exports after Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday.
"We are looking to support alternative routes: that is most prominently the Danube route. That route...stays within NATO territorial waters. So it's one that's very attractive for us because it keeps it into a more secure corridor," the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters.
"That (route) potentially can bring a significant amount, potentially, we'll try to double the amount going to that route," the official said.
There will be a meeting in the coming weeks with the Romanians and Moldovans to discuss how to maximize the Danube route, the official said.
The grain deal, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, allowed for safe export of grain from Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Last month Moscow exited the deal, accusing the West of hampering Russia's own grain and fertilizer exports.
The deal aimed to alleviate a global food crisis, and enabled the export of nearly 33 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain. Since its collapse, grain prices have surged as Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian ports with volleys of missiles and drones.
Ukraine is a global major grain grower and exporter and normally ships millions of metric tons of food from its deep-water Black Sea ports of Odesa and Mykolaiv, but has had to rely on its Danube River ports after Russia pulled out of the deal last month.
Washington has also been working with Turkey to support its efforts to bring Russia back into the grain deal, the official added. "We're not directly involved in the negotiations, but our teams are working closely with the UN and the Turks in support of trying to see it restart."
Turkey has been seeking to persuade Russia to return to the grain deal agreement and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to travel to Russia soon to discussed the collapsed deal.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by David Gregorio)