Kerry to discuss loan guarantee, security, democracy with Tunisia

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2015 3:42 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss a $500 million loan guarantee, security cooperation, and support for Tunisia's democratic transition when he visits Tunis on Friday, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

The United States said on May it was prepared to consider a loan guarantee of up to $500 million for Tunisia if the funding was needed to help advance economic reforms there.

"We are going to be talking to them ... about how we might be able to do that," a senior State Department official told reporters ahead of Kerry's departure.

"Agreeing on such a thing, negotiating the terms and implementing it is a complex thing; That's a discussion we are going to start," he said.

Kerry is to visit Tunisia as part of a trip that will also take him to Vienna for international talks on Syria on Saturday and then on to the G20 meeting in Turkey.

In Tunis, he is due to meet Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and other leaders.

After meeting Essebsi in Washington in May, U.S. President Barack Obama designated Tunisia a major non-NATO ally of the United States in recognition of the country's democratic progress since its 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

The U.S. official called Tunisia "a very important place and ... a counterpoint to those who assert that Islam is somehow incompatible with democracy."

He said the country still faced challenges, as was shown by Islamist attacks at a hotel in Sousse on the Mediterranean coast in June and at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis three months earlier, in which dozens of foreign tourists were killed, dealing a severe blow to tourism, a major industry for Tunisia.

"We will plan to use this visit ... to underline our support for Tunisia's democracy, its efforts to build its security and develop its economy," the official said, adding that the two sides would look at how the United States could assist in building border security and training.

He said the United States had provided Tunisia with more than $700 million of economic, development and security assistance since 2011.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)