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Hopes High for Better US-Nigeria Ties Ahead of Buhari Visit

FILE - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, June 14, 2015

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to visit Washington later this month. The visit comes after years of strained relations between the U.S. and Nigeria under former president Goodluck Jonathan.

Officials from Jonathan’s administration were openly critical of American policy towards Nigeria. The country’s ambassador to Washington complained the United States was not doing enough to help Abuja fight the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country’s northeast.

That relationship may change under Buhari. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the new president’s inauguration in May, and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Abuja this week.

While giving few specifics, Blinken said President Barack Obama would listen to Buhari when they meet on July 20.

“Any ideas that Nigeria has, any requests it makes, we will sit down, and we will talk about it and work through it,” said Blinken.

Jamestown Foundation African affairs analyst Jacob Zenn says the meeting will likely focus on smoothing over relations between the two countries, with Obama expected to show support for Buhari’s agenda, particularly his stated focus on combating corruption and insecurity.

“The U.S. side is optimistic about the prospect of President Buhari focusing on prioritizing the issues that the U.S. considers key concerns,” said Zenn.

That, analysts believe, does not mean the United States will take a greater role in the fight against Boko Haram. In the past, the United States trained Nigerian troops and provided non-lethal equipment like vehicles and uniforms, but turned down Nigerian requests for weapons.

Zenn says President Buhari is unlikely to leave Washington with much more than commitments for further training and intelligence sharing.

“The fight against Boko Haram will continue to be a Nigeria-led initiative,” he said.

Nigeria is working with neighbors Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin to put together a joint task force to combat the group.