MILAN (Reuters) - The board of Telecom Italia will not make a decision on a possible tie-up with Hutchison Whampoa at its next meeting on Wednesday, the Italian group's chief said in a newspaper interview on Saturday.
The group is focused on the planned spin-off of some of its network assets - valued at between 13 and 15 billion euros ($17-$19.4 billion) - into a separate company, which it approved on Thursday, Chairman Franco Bernabe said.
"What I say is that consolidation in the sector is desirable and necessary. We'll see when the time comes," Bernabe told Il Sole 24 Ore when asked about a possible Hutchison deal.
"For now, the issue is not on the table: there'll be no decision at Wednesday's board meeting. On the table, right now, there is the network."
Hutchison is targeting a majority stake in Telecom Italia in a deal that would involve merging its local unit 3 Italia into the Italian telecoms giant.
In a statement on May 8, Italy's biggest phone company had said it would take up to 30 days to assess whether it and Hutchison could bridge differences over valuations, but Bernabe's comments suggest a decision could be delayed further.
Telecom Italia plans to sell a stake in a newly created network company to state-backed fund Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
Bernabe reiterated the group would keep a majority stake - something which could complicate a deal with Hutchison due to political concerns about keeping control of the network in Italian hands.
The stock, which has risen 14 percent in the last three months, fell 5.8 percent to 0.6 euros on Friday on disappointment at a lack of detail and no timeframe for the spinoff plan put forward on Thursday.
Bernabe rejected a proposal by rival telecoms group Wind to also transfer some assets to the new company in exchange for a stake.
"We don't want a company paralyzed by arguments between players with too many conflicts of interest," he said. "For now we are open to long-term institutional and financial investors, but we do not want to become like a mini-parliament."
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(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Catherine Evans)