Algiers - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Algeria on Monday, with the political crisis in neighbouring Mali a central focus of her scheduled talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Clinton's plane touched down shortly before 05:30 GMT at Algiers international airport at the start of her second visit to the Algerian capital following a trip last year.
Also on the agenda, according to the US State Department, is the general issue of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).
Clinton is to meet Bouteflika and other top officials in Algeria, which shares a long border with Mali, where extremists and rebel groups took over large swathes of the country's north after a March coup.
Mauritania and Algeria have called for dialogue in a bid to reach a political solution to the crisis.
"Algeria being the strongest Sahel State became a critical partner in dealing with Aqim," a state department official said aboard the plane carrying Clinton in.
"In the context of what happened in North Mali when the government forces up there collapsed and the coup happened, Algeria's importance has become ever more important and it will really be a central focus in the talks between the secretary and president," the diplomat added.
"There is a strong recognition that Algeria has to be a central part of the solution," the official stressed.
Algeria, with its powerful army, was at first opposed to any military intervention in Mali, with which it shares a 1 400km border, fearing a destabilisation of its territory.
Now Algiers is not ruling out military action, though without its participation.