Visa ban still vexes, Chad tells Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcomed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcomed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Chad has acted to "normalize" its relationship with the United States after it was included on a visa-ban list, in a visit designed to show that Washington values President Idriss Deby's government as an "important partner" in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.

Tillerson, the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit Chad, made the comments in the capital, N'Djamena, on the final day of a five-nation African tour. Upon arrival, he went straight into a meeting with Deby, with whom he once negotiated a major oil contract during his 40-year career with Exxon Mobil Corp.

A key goal for Tillerson was to ensure sustained Chadian cooperation, while also easing its displeasure for being included last September on the visa-ban list. Chad's military provides troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions, it hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it's also helping counter militant groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State in neighboring Libya.

"As I told President Deby, the United States values Chad as a strategic partner in this region," Tillerson said at a news briefing. "We appreciate Chad's role providing security for its own citizens" and neighboring countries, he said, adding that it contributes about 4,000 troops to regional forces fighting Islamist militants.

"As we have had success in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we knew that violence would flee that area, and we knew that Africa was there area they would come," Tillerson said. "They have established themselves in various regions."

Tillerson was in the landlocked African country only for a few hours under a compressed time frame after he cut short his tour to the continent by a day to deal with North Korea and other pressing matters. He arrived in Abuja, Nigeria later Monday for the final stop of a trip that included visits to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya.

During his meeting with Tillerson, Deby criticized the inclusion of Chad in the visa-ban list, Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif told reporters at the briefing. President Donald Trump last year imposed travel restrictions on travelers from Chad and eight other countries, including North Korea, Libya and Iraq.

"The president expressed his incomprehension with respect to this measure and he does hope Chad will be dropped soon from this list," Cherif said.

Tillerson said he had a good exchange with the Chadian authorities about the travel ban and that he wanted to assure the country that "the people of Chad are welcome in the United States."

"Many, many important positive steps have been taken by the government of Chad to strengthen the control over its own passports, to strengthen the information-sharing," Tillerson said. "These steps are going to allow us to take action to begin to normalize" the situation, he said. There will be a report later this month and Trump will review the issue in April.

The administration, led by the Department of Homeland Security, argued that terrorist groups are active in and around Chad and the country wasn't doing enough to halt people who may be security threats from entering the United States.

The trip hasn't been easy for Tillerson. It coincided with two major foreign-policy events: Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and the announcement on Thursday that the president would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in May.

Tillerson, 65, also fell ill while in Kenya and had to cancel planned events in Nairobi on Saturday. The secretary had gone two days without sleep while working on North Korea and other issues, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said on Saturday.

A Section on 03/13/2018

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