The long-running struggle to determine the future of Arcelor took another turn on Wednesday when the Luxembourg steelmaker finally agreed to meet representatives from Mittal Steel, more than four months after Mittal tabled a €18.6bn hostile offer for the company.

Playing down the suggestion that the meeting marked a softening of its stance against Mittal, Arcelor said the talks would be confined to “seeking answers” related to a business plan that Mittal has submitted in the past few days. It also said the Arcelor representatives would be a “delegation” of relatively junior officials who would not include Joseph Kinsch, Arcelor’s chairman, nor Guy Dollé, its chief executive.

But, while Arcelor emphasised that the meeting did not herald the start of any negotiations over the bid by Mittal – which was last month raised to €25.8bn – Mittal welcomed the idea of talks. The company – controlled by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, said: “We look forward to a constructive discussion.”

Charles Carter, of Marathon Asset Management, a London- based fund manager and a shareholder in Arcelor, said: “The idea of a meeting is a step forward. It shows that Arcelor is listening to the views of shareholders who have argued for some engagement between the two companies.”

The Mittal bid for Arcelor closes on July 5, leaving Arcelor shareholders roughly a month to decide on its merits. However, the chances of a Mittal-Arcelor merger suffered a setback less than two weeks ago when Arcelor unveiled an agreed merger with Severstal, a large Russian steelmaker whose main shareholder is Alexei Mordashov, a Russian steel tycoon.

Arcelor has said the Severstal merger will go ahead – unless more than 50 per cent of Arcelor shareholders oppose the transaction at a shareholders’ meeting on June 28. An influential group of Arcelor shareholders is trying to derail the plan and is lobbying for the Severstal deal to be decided at an alternative meeting when it would go through only if two-thirds of shareholders vote for it.

Mr Mordashov entered the debate on Wednesday, saying that the shareholders who were opposed to Arcelor’s preferred way of deciding the matter were a “vocal minority”.

He said the Arcelor-Severstal merger was approved by a substantial number of “long-term Arcelor shareholders”.

Since unveiling his original bid for Arcelor on January 27, Mr Mittal has said he would like “friendly talks” with top Arcelor managers to work out proposals for a merger. The discussions that Arcelor has agreed to are likely to take place in the next few days at a venue still to be decided.

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