An African Union delegation is in Washington for three days of high-level bilateral talks on topics ranging from trade to health to security. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew and African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping spoke of progress and plans at the start of meetings Wednesday at the State Department.
Lew praised the 53-member African Union for its dedication to democracy and good government. He said the AU had taken a courageous stand against unconstitutional changes in governments in Mauritania, Guinea, Niger and Madagascar.
"The members of the African Union have made a clear decision that the AU will not be a club for generals and dictators, and we applaud the strong steps the organization has taken in this regard," said Jacob Lew.
Lew added the United States is the largest financial supporter of the AU's peace and security programs, and he said the U.S. increasingly turns to the body to resolve transnational and African issues.
The African Union Commission's chief, Jean Ping, said global security issues call for global solidarity. He said regional bodies such as the AU are active in addressing threats such as terrorism, piracy, trafficking and climate change.
"Now it is clear that the world has been marked by tremendous changes, particularly globalization, the arrival of such new players on the international scene as the civil society, the advent of a new era of empowerment, and above all the visibility and the surge of the power of regional organizations and groupings such as African Union, the European Union, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], and Mercosur [the South American trade bloc]," said Jean Ping.
Ping highlighted Africa's vast natural resources and market size. AU member nations currently have a combined population of one billion. Ping said that by 2050, Africa might have a population of two billion, making it even more attractive to investors and international strategic partners.
"Africa is a continent of great opportunities," he said. "It is not a continent of problems."
Ping added that the AU Commission is working to address issues of peace and security, development, and constitutional and human capacity building. Ping said the AU has dispatched forces to conflict areas such as Sudan's Darfur region, and it has created a standby force ready for rapid deployment. He also said the AU is working to address gender inequality, noting that the 10-member African Union Commission is made up of five men and five women.
The AU delegation is set to meet with U.S. Cabinet officials such as Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, as well as senior officials in the fields of defense, security, intelligence, trade, treasury and commerce.
The State Department says these talks are the first in what it hopes will become annual meetings that will deepen U.S. - AU engagement.