PARIS, June 20 (Reuters) - Italian aerospace and defence company Leonardo will not cut its stake in European missile group MBDA, as the sector is considered strategic for Italy, the head of the country's defence companies association told Reuters on Tuesday.
The missile group is owned by France's Airbus and Britain's BAE Systems, which both have a 37.5 stake, and by Leonardo, with a 25 percent stake.
"The shared decision is for (Leonardo) to stay in MBDA," said Guido Crosetto, a former member of Italy's parliamentary defence committee and president of AIAD, the Italian association for aerospace, defence and security.
Crosetto, speaking at the Paris Airshow, added that Leonardo's exit from the shareholding of MBDA was "one of the options on the table... but it never materialised."
Leonardo declined to comment.
Former Leonardo Chief Executive Mauro Moretti had said the Italian group was in talks with Airbus over both MBDA and ATR, the regional plane maker jointly owned with France's Airbus.
Leonardo had indicated in the past that it would like to take greater control of ATR, while Airbus was said to be interested in Leonardo's stake in MBDA.
Officials on both sides have said they held informal talks over the two dossiers.
"The missile sector is strategic and consequently so is Leonardo's holding in MBDA," said a source with direct knowledge of the matter. "Italy cannot lose that kind of value added, it would be like moving in the dark."
The source said the decision had been a clear wish of the Italian Ministry of Defence and the armed forces.
"The government has expressed clear guidance for the sector and considers the Italian presence, through Leonardo, strategic," a government official said. (Reporting by Giulia Segreti; editing by Susan Thomas)