Niger coup: Diplomat from the United States engages in challenging discussions with the junta
Following last month’s coup in Niger, a high-ranking US official engaged in face-to-face discussions with the country’s military leaders. Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, described the talks as “exceptionally candid and occasionally challenging.
” Despite suspending aid payments, the United States has emphasized the potential for a diplomatic resolution to the coup, which could result in the reinstatement of President Mohamed Bazoum. On Thursday, West African nations are slated to convene to address the ongoing crisis.
Ecowas, a regional bloc comprising 15 West African states, had initially set a deadline for Niger’s junta leaders to step down and restore the elected president, responding with the closure of Niger’s airspace in the face of the bloc’s military action warning.
Speaking from Niamey, Ms. Nuland communicated that the US is willing to provide assistance “should those responsible for this situation express a desire to return to constitutional order.”
“I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer,” she said.
Ms. Nuland said she had met the new military chief of staff, Brigadier General Moussa Salaou Barmou, but not with Niger’s self-proclaimed new leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, or with Mr Bazoum.
Mr. Bazoum remains in detention but has previously spoken to US officials by phone.
Ms. Nuland said she also raised concerns over claims the coup leaders had asked Russia’s Wagner mercenary group for help in maintaining control of the country.
“The people who have taken this action here understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in,” she said.
Gen Tchiani, a former chief of the presidential guard to Mr. Bazoum, seized power on 26 July, saying he wanted to avert “the gradual and inevitable demise” of Niger.
The growing instability in the region compelled former colonial power France on Monday to warn its citizens against traveling to the Sahel region, and for those still there to be cautious due to anti-France sentiment.
“It is essential to limit travel, to stay away from any gatherings and to keep themselves regularly informed of the situation,” read a statement from the foreign ministry.
The junta in Niger on Sunday said it had information that “a foreign power” was preparing to attack the country, following reports that military chiefs from Ecowas had drawn up a detailed plan for the use of force.
Earlier, Abdel-Fatau Musah, Ecowas’ commissioner for political affairs, peace, and security, said that while “all the elements” had been worked out about an “eventual intervention”, the body wanted “diplomacy to work”.
Over the weekend Nigeria’s Senate discussed the situation in Niger after President Bola Tinubu wrote to it about the Ecowas resolutions imposing sanctions and the possible use of military force.
Local media report there was strong opposition to military intervention, especially from senators representing states near the long border the two countries share.
President Tinubu has been especially vocal in demanding that the Niger military leave power and has threatened to use force if they do not – but he needs approval from the National Assembly for any foreign military intervention.
The coup leaders seem to be showing no sign of willingness to cede power, and on Sunday thousands of their supporters rallied defiantly at a stadium in the capital Niamey.
Niger is a significant uranium producer – a fuel that is vital for nuclear power – and under Mr Bazoum was a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region.