Saudi Arabian Crown prince joins long guest list for G7 summit

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will join at least 12 other heads of state and government invited by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to take part in next week's Group of Seven (G7) summit, officials said on Friday.

The unusually long guest list reflects Italy's desire to broaden the horizons of the G7, a club of wealthy democracies that comprises the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union.

"The G7 brings together countries that are like-minded regarding fundamental principles and standards, but it is not closed off like a fortress. It opens up to the world," said a senior official who declined to be named.

Diplomats had already released a list of many of those expected at the June 13-15 gathering, including the leaders of India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Algeria, Kenya and Mauritania.

All those countries have now confirmed their attendance, meaning a first overseas trip for India's Narendra Modi since his election victory this week and for Cyril Ramaphosa, who lost an overall majority in South Africa this month.

Emphasising concern over the situation in the Middle East, officials on Friday confirmed that both the Saudi crown prince and Jordan's King Abdullah would attend discussions in Borgo Egnazia, an exclusive resort in the southeastern Puglia region.

It is believed to be the first time a leader from Saudi Arabia, a country regularly accused of human rights abuses, has been invited to join a G7 summit.

"We do not always have the same approach, but it is through dialogue and by understanding different needs that results are achieved," the Italian official said.

UKRAINE RETURNS

As last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will take part in the G7 meeting, joining a session on June 13 dedicated to his country's conflict with Russia. The other leaders will take part in the talks on Friday, June 14.

The guest star will be Pope Francis, who will be the first pontiff to participate in a meeting of the wealthy nations' club. He is due be the keynote speaker in a session dedicated to the risks and opportunities posed by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Critics accuse the G7 of being elitist and arrogant. By drawing in so many guests, Italy hopes to bolster consensus on critical issues such as relations with China, while also drawing attention to the problems of the Global South, especially Africa.

Previous hosts have tended to offer far fewer invitations, with the last two host nations, Germany and Britain, inviting just five apiece. The last time anyone invited more people than Meloni was in 2009, when former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi asked 22 world leaders to take part.

Besides a meeting on Friday on AI, energy, Africa and the Mediterranean, which all the leaders are expected to join, there will also be numerous opportunities for bilaterals.

Much attention will be focused on a possible encounter between Argentinian President Javier Milei and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - South American neighbours who have been openly critical of each other in recent months.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alex Richardson)