WASHINGTON, Oct 7 – President Barack Obama told Tunisia’s Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi Friday the United States was “deeply encouraged” by the progress his country has made since the revolution that set off the Arab Spring.
Essebsi expressed Tunisians’ “gratitude” for US help as he met with Obama in the Oval Office for talks which come two weeks ahead of key October 23 elections in his nation.
It was his first trip to the White House as prime minister since the fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, which sparked revolts against entrenched regimes across the Arab world.
Obama told Essebsi: “Tunisia has been an inspiration to all of us who believe that each individual man and woman has certain inalienable rights.”
He also argued that “those rights must be recognized by a government that’s responsive, that is democratic, in which free and fair elections can take place, and in which the rights of minorities are respected.”
“We’re deeply encouraged by the progress that’s already been made in this short period of time, in part because of the extraordinary leadership of the prime minister,” he said.
Obama praised what he described as an orderly run-up to this month’s elections of a constituent assembly, which will write a new constitution and organize elections for parliament and a new president.
“The prime minister and I had an excellent discussion about both the opportunities and the challenges that Tunisia faced going forward and how the United States can be a helpful partner in that process,” the president said.
In addition to the $39 million that the United States has provided Tunisia during the transition, it was prepared to offer it a package of loan guarantees, trade and foreign investment incentives, and other programs to support its economy, he said.
“The United States has an enormous stake in seeing success in Tunisia and the creation of greater opportunity and more business investment in Tunisia,” Obama said.
Essebsi, 84, a career diplomat who became prime minister in February, praised Obama as “having been the first to salute the change” in his country.
“In reality, the Arab Spring so far is a Tunisian Spring. I hope it will become an Arab Spring if certain conditions are met, including the success of the Tunisian revolution and the success of the democratic process in Tunisia.”