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Italian Foreign Vice-Minister Mario Giro talks with Reuters during an interview in Rome, Italy, March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi


By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will push for greater U.S. involvement in fostering stability in Libya when President Donald Trump and other world leaders meet in May, Italy's deputy foreign minister said on Monday.

Italy hosts the annual meeting of seven of the world's biggest industrialised economies (G7) in the town of Taormina in Sicily on May 26-27. It will be Trump's first scheduled trip to Europe.

Speaking in his office, Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro told Reuters one of Italy's foreign policy priorities was to build international support to unify Libya.

People-smugglers based in the strifetorn country, where two rival governments compete with armed militias for power, have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants on boats towards Italy since 2013. Arrivals have surged more than 50 percent this year.

"In recent years, Libya has always been a priority of ours," Giro said. "We hope - and at the G7 we will say it - that this issue interests also the U.S."

As well as Italy and the United States, the G7 comprises Britain, France, Canada, Japan and Germany.

Libya split into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms after a NATO-backed uprising led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Russia appears to be backing powerful commander Khalifa Haftar, who is aligned with a government based in the eastern city of Bayda.

Italy, the United State, the United Nations and others instead recognise the Tripoli government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Seraj.

"We dream and are working so that Russia and the United States start working together seriously on Libya, because we cannot have this area of instability in the central Mediterranean," Giro said.

Islamic State militants were driven from the coastal city of Sirte at the end of last year, but fugitive militants and sleeper cells are believed to still threaten the country and possibly to Europe.

Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Monday, said Italy was considering opening a consulate in Tobruk and that Russia could play a crucial role in uniting the country.

Giro said he was concerned that Trump had announced funding cuts for the United Nations.

"Yes I'm worried," Giro said. "I hope this doesn't hurt their (U.S.) capabilities either on an operative level or a political level."

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Andrew Roche)

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