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Senior US Diplomat Visits Niger for Talks With Country’s Military Leaders 

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A top U.S diplomatic official has visited Niger to urge the nation’s new military rulers to restore the West African nation’s democratically elected president to power.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said on the social media platform X, formally known as Twitter, that she traveled to the capital Niamey “to express grave concern at the undemocratic attempts to seize power and urged a return to constitutional order.”


Nuland told reporters in a conference call Monday that she met with the “self-proclaimed chief of defense” Brigadier General Moussa Salaou Barmou and three other military officials during her visit, describing the talks as “extremely frank and at times, quite difficult.”

She said the military officials are “quite firm on how they want to proceed,” which she says does not “comport with the constitution of Niger.” She says the coup leaders refused her request to meet directly with deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and his family, as well as coup leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

Nuland, who is also the current acting deputy secretary of state, says she was asked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to travel to Niamey to “see if we could resolve these issues diplomatically” and to make clear to the junta that Washington could cut off economic and other kinds of support to Niger “if democracy is not restored.”

In an interview with Radio France International Monday, Secretary Blinken said a diplomatic solution “is certainly the preferred way of resolving this situation.”

A spokesman for the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said leaders will hold an extraordinary summit Thursday in Abuja, the capital of neighboring Nigeria, to discuss the crisis in Niger after the junta’s leaders defied a deadline to reinstate President Bazoum or face a possible military intervention.

After the ECOWAS deadline passed Sunday for Niger’s military to stand down, military leaders there issued a pledge to defend the country and closed Niger’s airspace.

“Niger’s armed forces and all our defense and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” a junta representative said in a statement on national television.

The spokesman said any attempt to fly over the country will be met with “an energetic and immediate response.”

International airlines have begun to divert flights around Niger’s airspace. The United Nations said its humanitarian flights have also been grounded because of the closed airspace.

Also Monday, neighboring Mali said it and Burkina Faso would send a delegation of officials to Niger to show support for the military rulers.

Both countries — which have fallen to military coups in recent years — have said military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Alex Vines, the head of the Africa program at think tank Chatham House, told VOA that he is not surprised Mali and Burkina Faso have supported Niger.

“They’re afraid of a regional economic community intervening and restoring democracy. And that’s not what they stand for,” he said.

Another nation led by coup leaders, Guinea, has also expressed support for Niger’s military takeover.

Vines said he was surprised by Guinea’s support because the junta there has been trying to distance itself from the other juntas.

“I guess it shows how fearful they are that a values-based intervention that is about preserving and supporting democratic processes and accountable government is something that they don’t welcome,” he said.

On Friday, West African defense chiefs drew up a plan for a possible military intervention in Niger if the country’s military leaders did not release and reinstall Bazoum.

“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going to deploy the force,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said Friday.

The 15-nation bloc has sent military forces into member states in the past. However, it is not clear if ECOWAS members will support military action in Niger to resolve the current crisis.

Nigeria’s Senate urged the bloc to focus on political and diplomatic options instead of the use of force.

Italy urged ECOWAS to extend the deadline for Niger’s military leaders to back down, and called for a diplomatic solution.

“A solution must be found. It’s not set that there is no way other than war,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told La Stampa newspaper.

Niger’s military rulers have not shown much interest in negotiating.

An ECOWAS diplomatic delegation that arrived in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Thursday ended up leaving without meeting Tchiani or Bazoum.

Residents in Niamey have been stockpiling food and supplies in anticipation of a tense week ahead. Some have expressed support for the coup and used the situation to express anti-French sentiment. Protesters in Niamey on Sunday slaughtered a rooster — a national symbol of France — painted with the country’s tricolor.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated Monday his “full support to ECOWAS’ ongoing mediation efforts,” and expressed concern over the continued detention of Bazoum and the failure so far to restore constitutional order in Niger, according to a U.N. spokesperson.

Besides the United Nations’ reaction, the coup has been widely condemned by the African Union and Western governments. U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for Bazoum’s immediate release, adding that Niger is “facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”

Blinken said Friday that the U.S. has paused some aid programs that benefited Niger’s government, but said humanitarian and food aid would continue.

The State Department said Monday the paused aid is valued at more than $100 million and includes development assistance, security assistance and law enforcement assistance.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the suspended aid could be reversed if Niger’s military leaders reinstate the elected government.

“If the junta leaders would step aside and restore constitutional order tomorrow, that pause would … go away and security systems would be reinstated,” he said.

Miller said U.S. officials are still able to communicate with Bazoum and that their most recent contact was on Monday. He also said there has also been direct U.S. contact with Niger military leaders, urging them to step aside.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, has the highest fertility rate in Africa and depends heavily on foreign aid.

Bazoum, who has been under house arrest with his family since July 26, described himself in a Washington Post column Thursday as a “hostage,” and warned that if the mutiny proved successful, “it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world.”

He called on “the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order.”

On July 26, Tchiani, the former head of Niger’s presidential guard, declared himself the country’s new leader, saying the power grab was necessary because of ongoing insecurity in the country caused by an Islamist insurgency.

Niger has been a partner in the fight against counterterrorism in the Sahel, where militants linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State are operating. Both the United States and France have troops in Niger focused on counterterror operations.

Last week, Niger’s military leaders read a decision on national television ending bilateral military agreements with France, Niger’s former colonial ruler.

It is not clear what will happen to the French military presence consisting of 1,500 troops or the 1,000 U.S. military personnel in the country.

Pentagon officials said Monday there was “no change” to the force posture of the U.S. troops in Niger and no plans to evacuate them.

VOA correspondents Anita Powell at the White House and Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report. Some information for this article came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.