Orange CEO arrives in Israel after diplomatic spat

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 12:11 PM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Orange chief executive Stephane Richard, whose remarks about ending a licensing deal have caused anger in Israel, will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday during a visit to the country, a company spokeswoman said.

"Richard declared that he is happy to have a chance to clarify Orange Group commitment to Israel," spokeswoman Nilly Richman said in a statement, adding that the CEO also planned to meet Israel's former head of state Shimon Peres.

After arriving in Israel on Thursday, he visited Tel Aviv-based Orange Fab, an accelerator program for Israeli high-tech start-ups that was purchased by Orange.

Israel protested to France after Richard said last week that he would terminate a licensing arrangement with Israel's Partner Communications "tomorrow morning" if the contracts allowed. Orange is 25 percent owned by the French government.

Partner operates under the Orange brand name through a licensing deal that is believed to expire in 10 years but has no other connection to the French company.

Richard's remarks angered Israel, which fears diplomatic and economic isolation over the deadlock in peacemaking with the Palestinians and its settlements in occupied territory, which most world powers deem illegal.

Richard later denied supporting a boycott of Israel, saying he had been misunderstood, and spoke warmly of Israel in an interview with its biggest-selling newspaper.

On Saturday, Orange said it had no plans to quit the country. It has also said the comments reflected a broader strategy of not licensing its brand where it was not directly in control of the business.

Diplomatic sources have said Netanyahu instructed the Israeli ambassador in Paris not to accept a request by Richard to meet there. "If he wants to explain, he can come to Israel to do so," one source quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has confirmed local media reports that Richard had written a letter of apology for his comments.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Steven Scheer and Catherine Evans)