Obama gives non-NATO ally status to Tunisia

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SHAFAQNA – The US has designated Tunisia a major non-NATO ally, promising enhanced military cooperation. Tunisia, the starting point for the Arab Spring, faces growing security threats – especially from a destabilized Libya.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said Washington intended to confer the special status to Tunisia because of the country’s efforts at a transformation to democracy.

Obama said the move should take place “in recognition of our shared values, Tunisia’s democratic gains, and our growing security and counterterrorism cooperation.”

Tunisia is often cited as being starting point for the 2011 Arab Spring, after a disaffected fruit seller set himself alight.

The North African country has held elections, and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi [photo above] in December became the first democratically elected leader in Tunisia’s 60-year history.

Risk of power vacuum

However, the country faces rising security threats, and in March suffered an attack – claimed by “Islamic State” (IS) – on the Bardo National Museum that killed 21 tourists.

The US president stressed the importance of stabilizing neighboring Libya “so that we don’t have a failed state and a power vacuum that ends up infecting the situation in Tunisia as well,” Obama said.

The US president, playing host to Essebsi at the White House Oval Office, said the US would offer short-term aid so Tunisia could complete economic reforms.

“At this critical time in world history, we think it’s very important for us to continue to expand the economic assistance that we’re providing so that ordinary Tunisians can feel the concrete benefits of a change to a more open and competitive economy,” Obama told reporters.

‘Long path ahead’

Essebsi told reporters that his country had “a long way ahead” to transform its economy and said that it needed US support. “The democratic process is always vulnerable and threatened by chaos, by parties that do not believe in democracy,” Essebsi said, via a translator.

While major non-NATO ally status would also mean a greater sharing of military technology and possible ease of restrictions on weapons exports, it would not guarantee US assistance if Tunisia were to be attacked from outside.

Other countries with the designation include Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Korea.

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