A very long-running miner -- but not minor -- takeover saga could be inching toward completion. It appears that Australia's BHP Billiton's (NYSE:BHP) lengthy effort to acquire its London-based competitor, Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP), may be about to clear its final hurdle.

To review the bidding on this protracted effort, BHP has received regulatory approval in the U.S. and Australia to offer 3.4 of its shares for each existing share of Rio Tinto. The target company's management has spurned BHP's mating dance since it began about 18 months ago. And earlier this month, European Union authorities weighed in with a list of concerns about the combination, including the outsized role it would create in the iron ore and other commodities markets.

But The Wall Street Journal has indicated that BHP may be chipping away at the EU's concerns. According to the paper, BHP's chief commercial officer Alberto Calderon told a Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) conference, "We still think we can come to a manageable agreement with them … We're really in the last stages of the EU process, just a little longer."

If the EU's blessings for the deal were to be granted, BHP could bypass Rio Tinto's management and make an offer directly to the British company's shareholders. And given Rio Tinto's steeper share price slide than BHP's, the offer would represent a premium that's now approaching 40%. Tell me that Rio Tinto's holders wouldn't jump at that bit of candy.

All of the sudden, Rio Tinto has other concerns on its plate as well. Whereas not long ago the market -- and prices -- for iron ore were jumping like scalded dogs on the basis of what appeared an insatiable appetite for the mineral among Chinese steel manufacturers, that demand has pulled back so dramatically that Rio Tinto has decided to reduce its production by 10% in an attempt to affect prices. Those prices have experienced a free fall of more than 50% since the summer.

Earlier this year, when ore prices were running and Chinese steelmakers were concerned about how high they might go, Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE:ACH) and Pittsburgh-based Alcoa (NYSE:AA) teamed up to buy a stake in Rio Tinto. Their obvious intent was to position themselves to thwart a BHP-Rio Tinto combination.

But all of the sudden, it's a changed world, and BHP continues to demonstrate a resolve to complete one of the world's largest ever mergers. Given the way things seem to be working, there just may be some money to be made from this long-running drama.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned above, although his intellectual interest in the group is way up there. Feel free to send him your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.