Washington: President Barack Obama pledged US support for Tunisia's political and economic development as he welcomed the North African nation's Prime Minister to the White House for a meeting steeped in symbolism.

Tunisia sparked the wider democracy movement now known as the Arab Spring when citizens took to the streets in January to protest their authoritarian government, headed by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

He fled to Saudi Arabia, and his removal made Tunisia the first Arab Spring country to overthrow its longtime leader.

It also will be the first to hold free elections to emerge from the movement, with voters set to cast ballots on October 23.

Because of those milestones, Obama said he wanted Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi to be the first of the new generation of Arab Spring leaders to be recognized with an Oval Office meeting.

"Tunisia has been an inspiration to all of us who believe that each individual man and woman has certain inalienable rights, and those rights must be recognized by a government that is responsive and democratic," Obama said.

The President said the US would play a strong, supportive role as Tunisia transitions toward full democracy.

Following the meeting, the White House announced plans to work with Congress to provide up to USD 30 million in loan guarantees to Tunisia and to launch a USD 20 million Tunisia Enterprise Fund to support private sector growth.

In addition, the Peace Corps will return to Tunisia starting early next year, with volunteers focusing on English language training and youth development programs.

(Agencies)