Negotiations have been running for months for the Emirati airline to take a 49 percent stake in Alitalia, which currently employs 12,800 people and is facing bankruptcy.
The Italian airline will have to go through a restructuring that is "complex, tiring and painful - there is no alternative," said Gabriele del Torchio, Alitalia's chief executive, on the sidelines of a conference in Rome.
It had previously said as many as 2,500 jobs were on the line.
The airline's management hopes to finalize a deal on the company's debt by Friday. Del Torchio said talks with banking creditors were "very advanced", and that they were demanding "a sacrifice".
"I think it will take only a few weeks to conclude the deals with Etihad," he said, adding that a successful deal would send "an important signal" about Italy to foreign investors.
AirFrance-KLM also owns a stake in Alitalia, but chose not to pursue taking over the Italian airline after it could not get similar guarantees on deep restructuring to make it profitable.