Telefonica's O2 and Movistar have won exclusive deals to sell Palm's new Pre smartphone -- regarded as the closest rival to Apple's iPhone -- in Britain, Ireland, Germany and Spain.

Palm said in a statement on Tuesday that O2 would have initial exclusivity in the UK, Ireland and Germany, while Movistar would have an exclusive deal in Spain. It did not specify when other operators might be allowed to sell the Pre.

O2 already has exclusive British rights to the iPhone including the newly available 3GS version, giving it an edge over rivals Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and 3 this summer.

Palm said the Pre would be available in the specified European countries in time for the Christmas holidays in December. It did not announce pricing.

The company also said the Pre would debut in Canada with Bell Mobility in the second half of the year.

The Pre went on sale in the United States last month, initially with operator Sprint, and Palm said it had broken Sprint's previous first-weekend sales records in its first weekend of availability.

Palm hopes the Pre, which also competes head to head with Research in Motion's BlackBerry, will lead the company out of persistent losses.

The company pioneered the market for handheld devices in the 1990s, but has fallen behind competitors like Apple and RIM, who were quicker to roll out models with popular applications like music and email.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)