US, Saudi Arabia, India discuss possible rail, port deal -sources

A man walks past an installation on a skywalk ahead of the G20 Summit in New Delhi

By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S., Saudi Arabia, India and other nations are discussing a possible infrastructure deal that could reconfigure trade between the Gulf and South Asia, linking Middle Eastern countries by railways and connecting to India by port, according to U.S. officials aware of the conversations.

The talks, which have also included the United Arab Emirates and Europe, may or may not yield a concrete result in time for an announcement on the sidelines of this week's Group of 20 (G20) leaders meeting, the people said.

The conversations have been underway for months but are fluid, one of the people said.

U.S. President Joe Biden is on his way to the G20 conference in New Delhi, India, where he is set to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and may also have talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The plans for a sweeping, multi-national ports and rail deal would come at a critical time. To counter China's Belt and Road global infrastructure push, Biden is pitching Washington as an alternative partner for and investor in developing countries at the G20, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

It also comes as the Biden administration seeks a broader diplomatic deal in the Middle East that would have Saudi Arabia recognize Israel. The negotiations over a multi-country infrastructure deal were first reported by Axios.

Beyond the diplomatic implications, officials said they hope such an infrastructure deal could reduce shipping times, cost, the use of diesel and make trade faster and cheaper.

Saudi Arabia will also participate in an investment forum.

The event will be attended by India's trade minister Piyush Goyal and Saudi minister of investment Khalid al-Falih, according to the organizer, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

Saudi Arabia is also in talks with Italy about a potential Saudi investment in Rome's new strategic fund, with the kingdom focusing on energy, sustainability, supply chains and sport to expand its presence in the country.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Nidhi Verma and Shivangi Acharya; Editing by Heather Timmons, Jamie Freed, Philippa Fletcher)