Washington — Tunisia’s democratic revolution has provided an opportunity for a closer security partnership with the United States, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said following his discussions with Tunisian leaders on ways to cooperate against violent extremism and terrorism while working to improve regional stability in the Middle East and North Africa.
Speaking in Tunis July 30, Panetta said the peaceful revolution that ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011 and installed a democratically elected transitional government has inspired Americans as well as the rest of the world.
“For that reason, the United States stands ready to support the Tunisian people as they continue to strengthen their new democracy. We are ready to help Tunisia strengthen its economy and to strengthen our shared security,” he said.
A democratic Tunisia “will be an even more important source of stability in this region,” he said.
Panetta met with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi.
“In my discussions today, I was pleased to begin a dialogue about how we can deepen that cooperation in a range of common concerns, from countering violent extremism and terrorism to ensuring regional stability,” he said.
“Our militaries have long been partners. The revolution in Tunisia provides an opportunity for us to partner even more closely,” he said.
He urged Tunisia to develop a counterterrorism operation in response to the continued presence of al-Qaida and other violent extremist organizations in the region, and said the United States can help in areas such as operational assistance and by sharing “the kind of intelligence that would help them effectively deal with that threat.”
He said he also told Tunisian leaders that the U.S. Defense Department “stands ready to help Tunisia strengthen the capacity of its defense institutions as an important part of the broader effort to support Tunisia's democratic transition.”
As the birthplace of the wave of pro-democracy protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, Tunisia “can be a model to the rest of the region about what democratic transition is all about,” Panetta said.
There is more to do, including developing a new constitution and holding new elections, but Panetta told Tunisians, “I have every confidence in talking to your leadership that they are committed to doing exactly that.”