Stock index futures rose on Thursday as sovereign debt concerns remained in focus ahead of a meeting of European leaders to help Greece, while investors awaited data on first-time U.S. jobless claims.

Lending support to stocks, the Dubai government pledged to support the restructuring of debt-laden state-owned firm Dubai World and its property unit Nakheel by providing $9.5 billion in funding.

Ahead of a EU summit later Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed aid for debt-laden Greece with International Monetary Fund involvement as a last resort. Worries over heavy debt loads of some euro zone nations have plagued equity markets lately, and stocks were hurt Wednesday by a downgrade of Portugal's credit rating.

The structure of the European Union makes it incumbent upon the individual EU members to keep their own houses in order or face significant consequences because it doesn't mean that just because you're a part of the EU someone's going to swoop in and rescue you, said Jamie Cox, managing partner of Harris Financial Group in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

In the short term it's a little uncertain and painful, but over the long term it makes the member states stronger.

The report on initial jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT, is expected to show the number of people filing for first-time jobless benefits dipped to 450,000 last week from 457,000 the week before, according to Reuters data.

S&P 500 futures rose 5.2 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 38 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 7.75 points.

Also on tap, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will testify at 10:00 EDT before a U.S. House Financial Services Committee hearing, and investors will watch for details on the central bank's exit strategy.

Software maker Red Hat Inc forecast profit below Wall Street projections and said deferred revenue, a key indicator, would be below some estimates. Its shares lost 2.3 percent to $30 ahead of the opening bell.

Troubled bond insurer Ambac Financial Group Inc said it was open to seeking a negotiated restructuring of its debt through a prepackaged bankruptcy proceeding. Ambac shares fell 20 percent to 64 cents.

The U.S. Treasury could unveil a preset trading plan next month for the sale of its 27 percent stake in Citigroup Inc , Bloomberg reported. The plan would lock the government into a schedule for selling its shares.

Stocks ended lower Wednesday, hit by the Portugal downgrade and a weak Treasury note auction.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)