The African Union (AU) has officially launched its diplomatic mission to the United States. Senior officials from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa and officials of the Bush administration and Congress were said to be on hand during the launch Wednesday night in Washington.

Amina Salum Ali is the African Union?s ambassador to the United States. She told VOA the new office would promote greater understanding between the peoples of the United States and Africa.

?The purpose of the African Union Diplomatic Mission, one of the first outside of Africa, is to work with governments, Congress, international organizations, civil society in the Diaspora, and all friends of Africa and those who are focused to do business with Africa,? Ali said.

The African Union has always had a United Nations Mission. Ali said the Washington Mission would have a different role.

?Before, African Union office in New York used to deal with United Nations issues and all other bilateral issues. But now we have separated the functions. So the New York office will concentrate more on United Nations issues, and my office in Washington, we are concentrating more on bilateral issues, international organizations, Diaspora, and then of course IMF, World Bank, and all other bilateral issues between the American people and Africa,? she said.

The African Union has for years been discussing having a mission in Washington. Ambassador Ali said several concerns considered before launching the office.

?The decision was taken quite a long time ago. But sometimes it takes time; it takes resources, and it takes capacity, in terms of human capacity to be able to establish an office. So although the decision was taken since 10, 15 years ago, it was only last year we operationalized because we didn?t have enough capacity, enough resources,? she said.

The U.S. appointed Cindy Courville in the fall of 2006 as the first U.S. Ambassador accredited to the African Union.

Ambassador Ali said the new AU office would promote greater understanding between the peoples of the United States and Africa.

?It signifies that U.S. and Africa relations are quite warm, and there?s an opportunity for relations to get warmer, to get more programs and more partnership between America and Africa,? she said.

Ali said one of the major duties of the new AU office would be to promote relations between the African Union and the African Diaspora.

?You know we have 21 mandates. But I could say the biggest mandate is to deal with the Diaspora. So what we started to do is to introduce our office. So we started to introduce our office in Philadelphia. We?ve met the government there; we?ve met the Diaspora. We are going to visit other states and other cities because we believe we have to do outreach programs because this is where people are. People are not only in Washington. We are going to meet more as we go along,? Ali said.