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Mr. Kerry, attending the 50th anniversary of the African Union last month in Ethiopia, criticized Mr. Jonathan about reports of “credible allegations [of] gross human rights violations by Nigerian soldiers.” Mr. Jonathan noted that civilian casualties were inevitable in the fight against the terrorists.

After the French troops liberated Mali’s northern towns, many of the escaping insurgents moved to neighboring countries, which have seen an increase in terrorist attacks. These Islamists have become affiliated with Boko Haram, undertaking some of the attacks. Nigeria’s Minister of Interior Abba Moro recently noted the difficulty of stopping Islamists from infiltrating Nigeria along 1,000 miles of porous borders.

The spread of al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists in the region should be a major concern to the Obama administration. Nigeria plays a vital role in West Africa’s security in fighting the insurgents.

The United States needs to improve diplomatic relations with Nigeria and not lecture them on U.S. democratic values. There’s time for such discussions behind closed doors.

John Price is a former U.S. ambassador to Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles islands. He currently serves as a resident scholar at the University of Utahs Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is the author of “When the White House Calls,” and regularly writes commentaries on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.