By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME (Reuters) -Supporting African development and tackling the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (AI) will be two key themes for Italy during its one-year presidency of the Group of Seven, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday.
Speaking at a wide-ranging news conference, Meloni added that Italy would maintain its support for Ukraine in the war against Russia and warned that a further escalation of the conflict in the Middle East could have "unimaginable consequences".
Italy took over the rotating presidency of the G7, which includes the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Italy, at the start of January.
It will host numerous ministerial meetings throughout the year, including a leaders' summit in June. However, Meloni said she wanted to hold a special session before June focused on AI.
"I am hugely concerned about the impact (of AI) on the labour market," she told the news conference to mark the end of the year, held over from last month when she was unwell.
"Today we are faced with a revolution where (human) intellect is in danger of being replaced."
She told reporters that supporting African development would also be a central theme of her G7, saying it was vital to boost local economies and living standards to dissuade would-be migrants from heading to Europe.
"What I think needs to be done in Africa is not charity. What needs to be done in Africa is to build cooperation and serious strategic relationships as equals not predators. What needs to be done in Africa is to defend the right not to have to emigrate ... and this is done with investments and a strategy."
WAR ON THE AGENDA
Among other issues likely to dominate Italy's presidency is the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Meloni spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy late on Thursday in her first call to an international leader as G7 president, her office said.
On the Gaza conflict, Meloni called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties and said that a more permanent solution needed to be found for the Palestinian issue.
"I believe...it's an error to say 'First let's destroy Hamas and then we'll talk about it'," Meloni said.
"One of the best ways of calling the bluff of Hamas, which has no interest in the Palestinian cause, is to work for a structural solution of the Palestinian question," she added, saying the European Union should play a more prominent role in diplomatic initiatives.
Meloni, who took power in October 2022 as Italy's first woman prime minister, said she believed that the West should continue to supply arms and material support to Kyiv.
"The only way to reach any kind of diplomatic solution in Ukraine, any kind of negotiation, is to maintain the balance between forces on the ground."
(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Giuseppe Fonte; Writing by Crispian Balmer and Keith Weir; Editing by Sonali Paul)