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Kerry meets with leaders in Tunis before flying to Paris

Feb. 18, 2014 at 3:27 PM   |   Comments

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TUNIS, Tunisia, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Tunisians traveled a difficult but necessary road to democratic rule, and the United States applauds their effort, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

"And we intend to do everything that is possible to help in the electoral process to make certain that Tunisians have an opportunity to be able to exercise the rights they had fought for hard and be able to vote for their future government soon," Kerry told reporters in Tunis where he made an unexpected stop Tuesday.

Since the revolution the United States has committed more than $400 million in assistance, he said.

"In the time ahead, we will continue to support Tunisia's security, stability, economic growth, and political reform as we strengthen our bilateral engagement," Kerry said.

Kerry met with the country's prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, and its president, Moncef Marzouki, the State Department said.

He said he and Jomaa agreed that when the prime minister visits the United States, representatives will hold the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue, aimed at strengthening the countries' bilateral relations.

He said he and Tunisian leaders discussed the importance of security and that Tunisian officials will receive keys to a state-of-the-art mobile command post vehicle and a mobile crime lab.

"No democracy can survive or prosper in the absence of security, and we hope with this new equipment, but also with other initiatives that we are prepared to engage in, that Tunisians will be better prepared to address the violence and terrorism that threatens everybody in many parts of the world," Kerry said, adding that he wished his visit could last longer.

Tunisia's longtime ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted in an uprising in 2011. Tunisia was the first nation to freely elect a government as a result of the outburst of democracy called the Arab Spring.

Kerry is to fly from Tunisia to Paris to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry has been trying to gain Palestinian and Israeli support for a framework document that would establish parameters for a comprehensive peace agreement.

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