ISTANBUL, TURKEY — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on July 13 that a “critical step forward” had been taken to allow the “safe and secure export” of millions of tonnes of grain via the Black Sea.

He emphasized, however, that no formal agreement has yet been signed between Russia and Ukraine.

Turkey’s government has been working with the UN to broker a deal for weeks to move grain that has been stuck in Ukraine following the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

The food security of millions is at stake as more than 20 million tonnes of grain sit in Ukrainian silos at the Black Sea port of Odessa and ships are stranded due to the Russian blockade.

Hulusi Akar, Turkish defense minister, told Reuters the deal will be signed when the groups meet again next week. It includes joint controls for checking grains in ports and Turkey ensuring the safety of Black Sea export routes for Ukrainian grain.

Turkey also would set up a coordination center with Ukraine, Russia and the UN for grain exports, Akar said.

“In a world darkened by global crises, today, at last, we have a ray of hope,” Guterres said, while briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York. “A ray of hope to ease human suffering and alleviate hunger around the world. A ray of hope to support developing countries and the most vulnerable people. A ray of hope to bring a measure of much-needed stability to the global food system.”

The UN was represented at the negotiations in Istanbul, by Humanitarian Affairs chief, Martin Griffiths, and Rebeca Grynspan, head of the UN Trade and Development agency, UNCTAD.

“In the end, the aim of all parties is not just an agreement between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, but an agreement for the world,” Akar said.

Responding to questions from reporters, the Secretary-General said he hoped the first meeting in Istanbul would lead to another, “very soon, ”potentially next week.”

Asked about the wider possibility of a peace deal being reached between Russia and Ukraine to end the fighting, Guterres said there was still a “long way to go,” although the developments on July 13 were an extremely encouraging sign.