According to reports on NYTimes, Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the United States would extend an additional $500 million in loan guarantees to Tunisia, increasing American investment in a country that is working on a transition to democracy.
His visit there, a stop on the way to a second round of diplomatic talks in Vienna that seek to resolve the crisis in Syria, was important as much for the symbolism as for the promise of additional aid, as the Obama administration seeks to highlight the lone success story from the Arab Spring in a region where similar uprisings have given way to violence and chaos.
“The eyes of the world are on Tunisia, and America wants Tunisia to succeed,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference at the Foreign Ministry after economic and defense talks with Foreign Minister Taïeb Baccouche. “Tunisia is where the Arab Spring was born, and it is where it distinctly continues to bloom in ways that are defining possibilities for other countries in the region.”
In Tunisia, the Obama administration has been eager to spotlight a success story that validates its argument that democracy can thrive in an Islamic country. The United States has extended $700 million in direct aid to Tunisia over the past four years, extended two rounds of loan guarantees totaling $1 billion since 2012, and in July designated Tunisia a major non-NATO ally, a status that brings the promise of added military cooperation.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Baccouche on Friday signed a declaration of intent for a third $500 million round of loan guarantees, which Mr. Kerry said would probably be made available quickly. He said he planned to talk to members of Congress about providing additional funds for security assistance.
“We understand the urgency of the economic need for Tunisia,” he said.
The country’s transition to democracy has not been smooth. This week, 32 lawmakers from the party of President Béji Caïd Essebsi said they would resign to protest what they called meddling by the president’s son. If they follow through, they will hand a parliamentary majority to the Islamist opposition.
“Tunisia’s democracy, obviously, remains a work in progress, as it does in every democracy, including my own,” Mr. Kerry said. He said that despite “great hardships” and “despicable” terrorist attacks on foreigners at a Tunis museum and a beach resort this year, “Tunisia has turned time and again to peaceful dialogue.”
In Tunisia, he added, Islamists have been “engaging constructively” in the democratic process.
Mr. Baccouche said that despite the recent intraparty divisions, Tunisians were committed to a democratic system.
“We are in a democracy,” he said. “What is happening inside political parties is not going to have an impact on the work of the government.”