Acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met Niger’s coup leaders to push for a solution to the current political crisis in the West African nation.
Addressing a teleconference on Tuesday, Nuland said that she met the self-proclaimed chief of defence of the July 26 coup Moussa Salaou Barmou in the capital city of Niamey along with three of the colonels supporting him for more than two hours for “extremely frank and at times quite difficult” conversations, Xinhua news agency reported.
Nuland’s visit came as an ultimatum for the junta to release and re-empower the now deposed and detained President Mohamed Bazoum expired on Sunday.
Following a crisis meeting held on August 4, military chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional trading bloc which comprises 15 West African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Ghana, announced that they had drawn up a detailed plan for the possible use of force if Bazoum was not reinstated by 11 p.m. on August 6.
In response to the bloc’s warning, a junta spokesman said that Niger’s armed forces were ready to defend the country.
The junta also indefinitely shut the country’s airspace, with the leaders showing no sign of willingness to cede power.
Nuland is the highest level US official to meet the coup leaders in person.
Her trip to Niamey was made at the request of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CNN reported.
Nuland told reporters on Monday that the US “kept open the door to continue talking” and urged Barmou and his allies “to hear our offer to try to work with them to solve this diplomatically and return to constitutional order.”
“I hope they will keep the door open to diplomacy. We made that proposal. Their ideas do not comport with the Constitution. And that would be difficult in terms of our relationship if that’s the path they take, but we gave them a number of options to keep talking and we hope they take us up on that,” she added.
Nuland also said that she was not granted a meeting with the self-proclaimed new leader of Niger, General Abdourahmane Tiani, “so we were left to have to depend on Mr. Barmou to make clear again what is at stake”, reports CNN.
Nuland said she was frank about what is at risk if they do not reverse course and that she explained “very clearly” the US’ legal responsibilities if the military takeover is formally declared a coup, telling them that “it is not our desire to go there, but they may push us to that point”.
The US is required under law to cut foreign and military assistance to the Niger government if a formal coup designation is made.
On August 4, Blinken had announced the suspension of “certain foreign assistance programs” which he said were conditioned upon “democratic governance and respect for constitutional order”.
There are roughly 1,000 US troops currently stationed in Niger.
Barmou had previously worked with US special forces in Niger for many years.
Nuland added that her request to see detained President Bazoum was denied, saying: We’ve talked to him on the phone, but we haven’t seen him. We also asked for some gestures of health and welfare.
“He is in a very difficult situation under virtual house arrest along with his son and his wife. I hope over the coming period, the people responsible for the current situation will come back to those requests.”