Malaysia, Singapore defer high-speed rail project until year-end

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore said on Sunday they had agreed to suspend until Dec. 31 a high-speed rail (HSR) project between Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the city-state, to allow discussion of changes.

Analysts estimate the project, first announced by both nations in 2013, will cost about $17 billion, though the two have tried to renegotiate the terms of an initial pact.

"The government of Malaysia and the government of Singapore have agreed to resume discussions on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail infrastructure project in the near future," said Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia's minister of international trade and industry.

"The discussions will encompass some of the proposed changes in the commercial and technical aspects of the project," he said in a statement.

Singapore's transport ministry said in a separate statement that it had agreed to a "final extension" and that it looked forward to receiving Malaysia's formal proposal on the changes soon.

Singapore's transport minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post on Sunday that the extension should provide sufficient time for Malaysia to clarify its proposal and for both sides to assess the implications of the proposed changes.

"The key is joint commitment to the project's vision and mutual trust. Nevertheless, the HSR is a complex project, and both sides have to be convinced that the changes do not undermine the original intent of the project," he said.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Kirsten Donovan)