US pledges support to Tunisia at Strategic Dialogue

Friday 20/11/2015
Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Taieb Baccouche (R) greets US Secretary of State John Kerry, on November 13th, in Tunis.

Tunis - US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged support for Tunisia to strengthen its economy and upgrade its secu­rity and military capabilities, but said the “world’s eyes” are on the North African country as it still strives to meet challenges.

Compared to the turmoil and violence that has swept many Middle Eastern and North African countries since the “Arab spring” uprisings starting in 2011, Tunisia has emerged as a relative success story with free and fair presiden­tial and parliamentary elections held in 2014.

Tunisia is “a counterpoint to those who assert that Islam is somehow incompatible with de­mocracy”, Kerry said during the second session of US-Tunisia Stra­tegic Dialogue on November 13th.

Kerry and Tunisian Foreign Min­ister Taieb Baccouche declared in a statement “their shared com­mitment to promoting a secure, integrated and prosperous region through the warm partnership shared between the peoples of the United States and Tunisia”.

After meeting Tunisian Presi­dent Beji Caid Essebsi in Washing­ton in May, US President Barack Obama granted Tunisia major non- NATO ally status in recognition of the country’s democratic progress.

Since 2011, Washington has pro­vided Tunisia with about $700 million of economic, development and security assistance.

Kerry stressed US support for Tu­nisia in “addressing the challenges facing it in Libya”. Baccouche also reiterated Tunisia’s concerns about its next-door neighbour.

“Libya is a big cause for wor­ries as terrorism spreads there and where terrorists are arming Tuni­sian youth to send them fighting in zones of conflicts and who some­times return to threaten Tunisia’s security,” Baccouche said.

Analysts in Tunis said Kerry’s co-chairing the Strategic Dialogue was meant as a strong signal of Wash­ington’s eagerness to see Tunisia succeed in its political experiment amid continuing upheaval in the Middle East.

Kerry obliquely prodded the leaders of the small North African country to bolster political stabil­ity and speed up reforms, telling his audience “the world’s eyes are on Tunisia”.

He also hinted that Tunisia had still a way to go to win the sus­tained trust of the international business community. “Investment to flow in Tunisia needs investors having confidence in democracy, confidence in the laws, confidence in bankruptcy laws,” Kerry said.

He pointed out the United States planned to move forward with links between Tunisian univer­sities and Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M Uni­versity in high-tech and agricul­tural research in addition to 12 programmes to enhance research and education exchanges between Tunisian and US faculties and in­stitutions.

The United States has allocated more than $25 million to 2018 to support opportunities for young Tunisians to study in the United States.

On the eve of the dialogue, of­ficials from both governments at­tended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a police academy modernisa­tion project, a long-term, multi­million-dollar plan to renovate the training curriculum and physical facilities for the Tunisian National Police and National Guard.

Kerry also said the United States was working to secure resources to improve the ability of Tuni­sia to deter, detect and interdict weapons of mass destruction and related materials that might come across Tunisia’s border with Libya.

He said the United States agreed on a declaration of intent regard­ing a $500 million loan guarantee for Tunisia.

The United States is seeking to promote development of the pri­vate sector in Tunisia with the Tu­nisian American Enterprise Fund (TAEF), seeded with $60 million in US assistance.

Kerry said the US-funded Busi­ness Reform and Competitiveness Project created 6,564 sustainable private sector jobs in 100 Tunisian businesses.

He said the two governments have set a body on economic coop­eration to help Tunisia boost eco­nomic development and ultimate­ly “uproot radicalism” by offering job opportunities and expanded prosperity to the population, espe­cially its frustrated and impatient youth.

Kerry announced the launch of US-Tunisia Joint Economic Com­mission, which will supplement the US-Tunisian Strategic Dia­logue, the Joint Military Commis­sion and the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement as centre­pieces of US policy to help Tunisia.

“With over $1.4 billion in trade in 2014, the United States already en­joys an important economic rela­tionship with Tunisia and the Joint Economic Commission will facili­tate further growth,” a Tunisia-US statement pointed out.

The next session of the Joint Economic Commission is set for Washington in the spring of 2016. The next meeting of the bilateral Trade and Investment Frame­work Agreement (TIFA) Council is scheduled for March 2016 also in Washington.