US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tunis on Friday to take part in a strategic dialogue aimed at bolstering political and economic ties with the North African nation.
Kerry will be meeting members of the National Dialogue Quartet, who last month won the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in promoting a democratic transition after the Arab Spring revolution of 2011.
The Quartet comprises the Tunisian General Labour Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
It was formed in 2013 as the process of democratisation was facing huge challenges amid social unrest, threatening to drag Tunisia into civil war.
Kerry’s talks with members of the quartet are aimed at helping to support Tunisia’s fledgling democracy and bolster its economy and its security.
“We will plan to use this visit and use these meetings to underline our support for Tunisia’s democracy, its efforts to build its security and develop its economy,” a senior US State Department official said.
The official noted that Tunisia is facing “some challenges”, both political and economic, and “is going to need some time to build its institutions”.
He said that Kerry will launch the dialogue which will then divide into three working groups that will focus on economy, security, and democracy and partnership.
Kerry will also meet President Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s first democratically elected head of state who travelled to Washington in May seeking more military aid to counter a jihadist threat.
During the visit, the United States designated Tunisia a major non-NATO ally.
Since the 2011 revolution that toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the North African country has seen a rise in jihadist violence that has targeted security forces as well as the key tourism industry.
Jihadist attacks in Tunis and the seaside resort of Sousse in March and June killed 60 people, most of them foreign holidaymakers, dealing a heavy blow to the industry which accounts for almost 10 percent of GDP.
Earlier this year, Tunisia joined the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group that claimed the two attacks.
Washington has provided Tunis with more than $700 million in aid since 2011 and Kerry’s visit is expected to examine a request by Tunis for an additional $500 million in loan guarantees, the US official said.
Kerry will hold a joint news conference with Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche later Friday before flying to Vienna for an international conference on Syria.