Washington - President Barack Obama on Thursday elevated Tunisia to new allied status, promising financial and security assistance to ensure the North African country's transition to democracy remains a success in a fragile region.
Obama announced in an Oval Office meeting with newly elected Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi that he intends to designate his country as a major non-Nato ally of the United States, a special status only a few countries have been granted.
"The United States believes in Tunisia, is invested in its success and will work as a steady partner for years to come," Obama said.
Other Arab allies
Status as a non-Nato ally qualifies a country for certain privileges supporting defence and security co-operation but does not provide any security commitment to that country.
Others 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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The White House has been discussing expanding the designation to other Arab allies.
Essebsi said Tunisia was still midway in its reforms and has a long road ahead, with threats coming from terrorists, anti-democracy forces and an unstable regional environment.
"We need the support of the US and maybe the US needs Tunisia now," said Essebsi, who was elected in December.
Obama said it's important that the US and Tunisia partner in counter-terrorism and try to stabilise Libya, which is divided between two rival governments in turmoil that has enabled the rise of Libya's Islamic State branch. Obama said the goal for Libya is that "we don't have a failed state, a power vacuum that ends up affecting the situation in Tunisia."
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a March terrorist attack at Tunisia's National Bardo Museum that killed 22 people, mostly foreign tourists.