LONDON (Reuters) - Italy can get its unemployment below 10 percent in the medium term with signs of improvement beginning to show through in the economy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Tuesday, after the jobless rate hit its highest level since at least 1977.
"We want to get under 10 percent in the coming months, the coming years," he told a joint news conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Earlier on Tuesday, statistics agency ISTAT reported headline unemployment running at 13 percent, the highest level since current records began 37 years ago.
The prime minister has embarked on an ambitious campaign of economic and constitutional reforms aimed at pulling the euro zone's third-biggest economy out of its longest postwar slump since he took office in February.
He said foreign investors had picked up on signs of a turnaround in the economy, which emerged from two years of recession at the end of last year, and there had been "great, great, great" interest in Italy.
Renzi, 39, has repeatedly argued that the European Union must change its focus from budget austerity to do more to promote growth and cut unemployment.
On Tuesday in Athens, Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan reiterated that EU rules would permit Italy more time to reduce its 2-trillion-euro debt as long as economic reforms were underway.
"There are mechanisms that tie structural reform efforts that a country makes to the exceptional conditions of the debt level, allowing structural timing adjustments," Padoan said after meeting euro zone finance ministers.
While European leaders have generally praised Renzi's reform plans, there is concern that Rome may backslide on its budget commitments.
Italy's debt, which exceeded 132 percent of economic output last year, is the second highest in the euro zone to Greece.
Reporting By Francesco Canepa, James Mackenzie and Giselda Vagnoni, Writing by Steve Scherer, Editing by Angus MacSwan