US industrial products giant General Electric is in talks to buy the global power turbines division of struggling French engineering group Alstom.
This is according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
Earlier, Alstom chief executive Patrick Kron confirmed to union representatives that there were talks about an "industrial deal," but did not name GE.
The sources said a deal could be announced in the coming days after a board meeting this afternoon.
Both sources said it was Alstom, which makes power turbines and railway equipment, which had made the initial approach.
They also said that Alstom's main shareholder, French conglomerate Bouygues with 29%, was backing the deal.
French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg promised in an interview with Le Monde newspaper to protect the national interest and to study "other solutions and scenarios" for Alstom, one of the country's top private-sector employers.
He said he planned a meeting with GE management and had already met Kron yesterday.
Alstom employs 18,000 people in France, about 20% of its global workforce.
Trading in Alstom shares was suspended pending a statement from the company. The shares closed nearly 11% higher last night after Bloomberg reported that GE was in talks about a $13 billion full takeover bid for Alstom.
GE, with a market capitalisation of $265 billion, is about 23 times bigger than Alstom, valued at around $11.5 billion.
A deal to sell a power division beset by weak demand, low margins and industry oversupply to GE calls into question Alstom's existing plans to sell non-core assets and a stake in its transport arm to fill a hole in its balance sheet.
Kron told union representatives that there was no guarantee a deal would go through but he hoped to have answers for them "in the coming days", union sources said.
The head of Alstom's transport arm told Reuters in February the group was looking to list the unit separately as early as June if a trade buyer could not be found any sooner. If a deal with GE left Alstom with just its transport arm, a listing would no longer be needed.
Alstom was bailed out by the French state in 2004 and relies heavily on orders from national rail operator SNCF and utility EDF.
The group announced 1,300 job cuts last year and put assets up for sale to raise cash, including a stake in its transport business, which makes France's prized high-speed TGV trains. It also floated the possibility of an IPO of the business.
Ten years ago, when France was negotiating a bailout package for Alstom with European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, German group Siemens was in the frame as a potential buyer of its power arm.
In the end, the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, balked at that prospect of German ownership, and Alstom stayed intact.
A report in today's Le Figaro newspaper said Alstom has looked at a similar potential asset swap with Siemens more recently, whereby Alstom would have exchanged its power business against Siemens' rail business. Siemens declined to comment.
For GE, a deal could help the US group get infrastructure assets cheaply and make cost savings in power generation. For instance, GE is looking to expand in smart grid technology, where Alstom is a strong player.