"We are actively negotiating and both sides are keen," Xi told reporters on Thursday after announcing half-year results. "There are still some commercial and technology issues that need time to resolve," he added, without elaborating.
Tim Cook and XI were both seen last month in talks, hinting that a deal was nearing.
China Mobile is the world's largest carrier with nearly 740 million subscribes. The carrier recently announced slow growth to its smartphone business so carrying the iPhone could help the carrier close that gap -- however the company did post healthy Q2 profits.
Apple has so far ducked a deal with China Mobile as this would have required a redesign inside the iPhone to work on the operator's inferior TD-SCDMA 3G technology. For its part, China Mobile has been reluctant to commit to the huge cost of marketing and subsidizing sales of the expensive iPhone.
By offering a mid-market Apple smartphone, China Mobile, which has 740 million users, could draw in more sophisticated, data-crunching subscribers to grow net profit that last year was only 15 percent higher than in 2008, when Apple opened its first store in China.
Although a date has yet to be confirmed by either Apple or China Mobile, the September 10 iPhone event would be a perfect time to announce the deal between the two, especially with a new lower-costing iPhone rumored to be announced.