April 20, 2015 / 1:12 PM / 3 years ago

Obama, Tunisia's Essebsi to meet in wake of attack, elections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S President Barack Obama and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi will meet in Washington next month to discuss security and economic issues, including the situation in neighboring Libya, the White House said in a statement on Monday.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, 07 April 2015. REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Pool

Obama and Essebsi will “discuss regional developments, including events in Libya and terrorist threats in the region,” at their May 21 White House meeting, the statement said, adding that U.S.-Tunisian security cooperation also was on the agenda.

Analysts have said Libya, Tunisia’s much larger neighbor to the east in northern Africa, is turning into a conflict zone for competing regional powers and faces a potential civil war in the wake of the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.

Over the weekend, a video purportedly made by Islamic State appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Separately, as many as 700 migrants were feared dead after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast.

The Obama-Essebi meeting also comes two months after the March 18 attack on the Bardo national museum in Tunis that killed 21 foreign tourists and a policeman, shaking a country that has been praised as a peaceful democratic model since leading the first of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Tunisian government has pointed the finger at Okba Ibn Nafaa, a local group.

Obama and Essebsi’s meeting also follows Tunisia’s first free presidential elections last year that saw Essebsi, a veteran politician, win office.

“The visit will underscore the United States’ longstanding friendship with Tunisia, our commitment to strengthening and expanding our strategic partnership with Tunisia’s new government and our support for the Tunisian people following their historic 2014 democratic elections,” the White House said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott

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