PARIS (Reuters) - Orange has no plans to quit Israel, its chief executive officer said on Saturday, following a row this week over its plan to end a licensing deal there.
Israel protested to France after CEO Stephane Richard said the 25 percent state-owned telecoms group planned to terminate an arrangement with Israel's Partner Communications, drawing accusations Orange was bending to a pro-Palestinian boycott movement.
"Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world," Richard said in comments emailed to news agency Agence France Presse and confirmed by an Orange spokesman.
"Our decision on the use of the brand is motivated - as it is all over the world - solely by our brand strategy. Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay."
Orange is present in Israel via Orange Business Services, Internet television unit Viaccess-Orca, and Orange laboratories.
Richard had been quoted by media reports as saying at a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday that he was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel "tomorrow morning".
An Orange spokesman said there had been a "huge misunderstanding", and that Richard had not been referring to exiting the country.
In a recording of excerpts of the conference emailed by the spokesman, Richard said Orange had negotiated a termination date in the contract regarding the use of the Orange brand.
"Now...we have the capacity to terminate this contract in the future," he said. "Our intention is to terminate the contract. Our intention is as soon as possible from a contractual point of view and preserving our interests of course, our intention is to withdraw Orange brand from Israel."
He added: "Our group policy is not to license our brand when we're not the operator... There isn't a single country in the world where we do that, so there's no reason to do it in Israel either... We want to control our brand."
Partner said the only link between it and Orange was the brand, used by the Israeli company since 1998.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week demanded France publicly renounce what he called "the distressing statement and action" taken by Orange.
France's Foreign Ministry responded that Paris opposed any boycott of the Jewish state but stressed Orange was free to define its own policy.
France issued a warning to French investors a year ago that investments in Israeli settlement areas carried legal risks, a move which raised concerns in Israel.
French human rights groups have asked the government to encourage Orange to pull out of its relationship with its partner.
Israel has said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, sponsored by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, is motivated by anti-Semitism and a desire to paint Israel as illegitimate.
(Reporting by James Regan, editing by William Hardy)