Tunisia - Foreign Relations
Since the nation's formal independence from France in 1956, the Tunisian government has generally attempted to concentrate its efforts and resources on domestic development while maintaining harmonious relations with its neighbors and other powers. Despite these efforts, Tunisia's location between Algeria and Libya - two states long characterized by their oil wealth and revolutionary ethos-its identity as an Arab and Islamic state, and the generally pro-Western, modernist tendencies of Bourguiba's leadership have prevented the country from avoiding regional disputes.
President Ben Ali maintained Tunisia's long-time policy of seeking good relations with the West, including the United States, while playing an active role in Arab and African regional bodies. President Bourguiba took a nonaligned stance but emphasized close relations with Europe and the United States. Although Tunisia has limited influence within the Arab League, it remains in the moderate camp, as demonstrated most recently in 2009 by its refusal to participate in the extraordinary Doha Summit on the situation in Gaza.
Tunisia has long been a voice for moderation and realism in the Middle East. President Bourguiba was the first Arab leader to call for the recognition of Israel, in a speech in Jericho in 1965. Tunisia served as the headquarters of the Arab League from 1979 to 1990 and hosted the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) headquarters from 1982 to 1993. (The PLO Political Department remains in Tunis.) Tunisia consistently has played a moderating role in the negotiations for a comprehensive Middle East peace. In 1993, Tunisia was the first Arab country to host an official Israeli delegation as part of the Middle East peace process. The Government of Tunisia operated an Interests Section in Israel from April 1996 until the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. Israeli citizens may travel to Tunisia on their Israeli passports.
Wedged between Algeria and Libya, Tunisia has sought to maintain good relations with its neighbors despite occasionally strained relations. Tunisia and Algeria resolved a longstanding border dispute in 1993 and have cooperated in the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Tunisia that connects Algeria to Italy. In 2002, Tunisia signed an agreement with Algeria to demarcate the maritime frontier between the two countries.
Tunisia's relations with Libya have been erratic since Tunisia annulled a brief agreement to form a union in 1974. Diplomatic relations were broken in 1976, restored in 1977, and deteriorated again in 1980, when Libyan-trained rebels attempted to seize the town of Gafsa. In 1982, the International Court of Justice ruled in Libya's favor in the partition of the oil-rich continental shelf it shares with Tunisia. Libya's 1985 expulsion of Tunisian workers and military threats led Tunisia to sever relations. Relations were normalized again in 1987. While supporting the UN sanctions imposed following airline bombings, Tunisia has been careful to maintain positive relations with her neighbor. Tunisia supported the lifting of UN sanctions against Libya in 2003, and Libya is again becoming a major trading partner, with 2009 exports to Libya valued at $830.8 million and imports at $559 million.
Tunisia has supported the development of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), which includes Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Libya. Progress on Maghreb integration remains stymied, however, as a result of bilateral tensions between some member countries. Tunisia has played a positive role in trying to resolve these tensions.
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