"Mannesmann AG and Vodafone AirTouch Plc said on Thursday they were holding talks which may or may not lead to a friendly deal as one newspaper said they were working toward presenting an agreement as soon as Friday.
"The two companies issued brief statements saying they were holding talks but that the outcome was open. Announcements would be made in due course, they said.
"Mannesmann's supervisory board is due to hold a special meeting later today, its third this week.
"Statements from the two companies this week suggest they remain far apart on key issues such as price and management structure.
"But Vodafone Chief Executive Chris Gent, in Germany for talks with his Mannesmann counterpart Klaus Esser, said late on Wednesday he remained hopeful a deal could be reached ahead of the February 7 deadline on Vodafone's hostile all-paper bid.
"The Wall Street Journal Europe, quoting unnamed sources, said Vodafone and Mannesmann were working toward unveiling an agreement as early as Friday.
"The newspaper said price was the biggest obstacle to a deal, with Esser wanting Mannesmann shareholders to control at least 50 percent of the combined company. But Gent has said he was not prepared to give Mannesmann more than 49 percent.
"When asked in a German television phone-in program on Wednesday night whether a ``50-50 solution'' would solve the deadlock, Gent said: ``No, I don't think it necessarily would.''
"The Wall Street Journal Europe said Mannesmann wanted Vodafone to keep certain key members of Mannesmann's management team but that Esser was not expected to play more than a transitional role at a combined company.
"Vodafone is seeking control of the management board while Mannesmann wants equal representation, the paper added.
LIST OF DEMANDS
"Mannesmann on Wednesday presented Vodafone with a list of preconditions for a friendly deal, including that Vodafone abandon a joint venture with France's Vivendi.
"Mannesmann management board member Lars Berg said Vodafone's deal with the French firm to set up a European Web portal, which foiled Mannesmann's own hopes for a merger with Vivendi, would make Vodafone's bid ``less practical'' for Mannesmann investors.
"Berg also reiterated that Mannesmann would want a majority of the merged group rather than the 47.2 percent currently on the table -- a condition that Vodafone has so far rejected.
"Berg also insisted that Vodafone scrap plans to sell off Orange Plc, Mannesmann's recently acquired UK mobile phone unit, and put Vodafone's much bigger British mobile phone business up for sale instead.