US backs $500M in loan guarantees to Tunisia

President Obama announced Friday that the United States will provide a second loan guarantee for $500 million to the government of Tunisia. 

“To respond to Tunisia’s near-term economic challenges and support the Prime Minister’s reform agenda, the President announced the Administration’s intent to provide a second loan guarantee for $500 million to facilitate Tunisia’s access to international capital markets,” the U.S. and Tunisia said in a joint statement. 

Obama made the announcement during his first meeting at the White House with Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa. 

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The U.S. announced its first loan guarantee of $485 million in 2012 to help the country transition to a new government since its revolution a year earlier. 

Jomaa has “a big job ahead of him” to ensure Tunisia drafts a new election law, prepares for a new election, and moves forward with reform, Obama said during the meeting at the Oval Office, according to a White House pool report.

“We want to work with Tunisia on border issues with Libya and counter terrorism,” Obama added.

Jomaa also met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Friday to discuss the second loan guarantee as well as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. 

In December, political leaders in Tunisia selected Jomaa as prime minister, who will serve at least until elections later this year. The Tunisian government recently ratified a new democratic constitution and installed an independent government.

Tunisia was the first country in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 to hold protests during the Arab Spring. Violent anti-government demonstrations led Tunisians to eventually overthrew longtime president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.