(AFP) – Apr 21, 2010
WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday hailed the African Union's contribution to democracy as it sought to build ties with the regional body in talks in Washington.
Group members "made a clear decision that the AU would not be a club for generals and dictators," Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Jack Lew said as he opened the three-day dialogue.
"We applaud the strong steps the organization has taken in this regard."
Lew lauded the African Union as "an essential institution for defending our common principles of democracy and governance."
He said the United States stood "ready to assist any country striving to strengthen its own democratic institutions."
AU chief Jean Ping said the state of human rights in Africa was "encouraging," as he highlighted his organization's work to prevent Africa's chronic coups.
Africa is "a continent of great opportunity; it is not a continent of problems," he said.
Since it was founded in 2002, the Addis Ababa-based AU has gradually been assuming a greater role in security of the continent.
It has taken part in peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region, and in 2008 led an invasion of the breakaway Comoros island of Anjouan. Last month, the AU slapped sanctions on Madagascar's rulers for failing to implement accords to end a protracted political crisis.
The African Union is "increasingly is the institution the US turns to for help in resolving some of Africa's most challenging issues," the State Department said in a statement.
A US diplomat said that Washington hoped the AU would expand its capacity to carry out peacekeeping operations, to which Washington is the biggest financial contributor.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States hoped the talks would be the start of a regular dialogue to "deepen and expand our relationship" with the African Union.
During their stay in Washington, AU delegates are scheduled to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as defense, CIA, Treasury, Commerce, State Department and National Security Council officials.
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