Qwest Communications International Inc. (Q) would consider renewing its pursuit of MCI Inc. (MCI) if MCI shareholders launched an effort to replace their board, Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert said in a newspaper interview published Friday.

"One always needs to keep an open mind," Notebaert told The Denver Post.

MCI spurned Qwest's $9.85 billion offer this week in favor of an $8.54 billion bid from Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) MCI said it accepted the lower offer because it was worried about Qwest's high debt level.

Notebaert has accused the MCI (search) board of not negotiating in good faith with Qwest (search). "It was a poor way to run an auction," he said.

Qwest dropped out of the bidding Monday, but in a letter to the MCI board, Notebaert never used the word "withdraw." In a discussion with reporters Tuesday, he sidestepped questions about Qwest's future intentions.

Notebaert declined to say how much money Qwest spent in the bidding for MCI but called it "a very good investment."

"We don't fall in love with the deal. We know when to walk," he told the Rocky Mountain News in a separate interview published Friday. "It's like the song says, 'We know when to hold them, and we know when to fold them.' "

The Post reported that Qwest Chief Financial Officer Oren Shaffer held private meetings in Washington Thursday with several MCI shareholders who are urging Qwest to launch a hostile bid for MCI.

The newspaper did not identify its sources. Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said Friday he could not comment.

After Shaffer spoke at a conference in Washington, Morgan Stanley analyst Simon Flannery wrote, "Qwest appeared to not rule out further pursuit of MCI."

David Barden, a Banc of America Securities analyst, said in a research note this week that Notebaert's letter "could be an invitation to MCI shareholders to circle the wagons and work to bring Qwest back into the process."

MCI shares rose 24 cents to $25.74 in afternoon trading Friday on the Nasdaq Stock Market. That is below the $26 a share in cash and stock that Verizon has agreed to pay for MCI. Qwest offered $30 a share in cash and stock.

Qwest shares fell 9 cents to $3.53 in afternoon dealings on the New York Stock Exchange, while Verizon shares rose 32 cents to $34.62.