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High-Stakes Diplomacy: U.S. Official Meets Niger Military Junta

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Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s meeting with Niger’s military junta underscores the urgent diplomatic efforts to restore democratic governance in the strategically important West African nation.

In a dramatic push to restore democracy in a key U.S. ally, Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland engaged in high-stakes negotiations with members of Niger’s military junta on Monday. Nuland’s meeting with Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, the self-proclaimed chief of defense, and his supporting colonels was marked by “extremely frank and at times quite difficult” discussions. These talks, spanning over two hours, underscored the urgency of the situation in Niger.

Nuland’s visit to Niamey, made at Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s request, came just weeks after Niger’s presidential guard seized power, ousting democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum. The timing was critical, following an ultimatum from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanding a return to constitutional order or facing potential military intervention.

“We kept the door open to continue talking,” Nuland reported, emphasizing the U.S.’s push for a diplomatic resolution. However, she acknowledged the junta’s rigid stance on their power grab, noting, “Their ideas do not comport with the Constitution.” Nuland expressed hope that the junta would consider the numerous diplomatic options presented to them but admitted that gaining traction was challenging.

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Complicating matters, Nuland was denied a meeting with the self-proclaimed new leader, General Abdourahmane Tiani. Instead, she relied on Barmou to convey the U.S.’s stern warnings and the potential consequences of a formal coup designation, which would legally mandate a cessation of U.S. aid to Niger. Secretary Blinken had already paused certain assistance, a move likely to impact significant development and security aid.

The presence of roughly 1,000 U.S. troops in Niger adds another layer of complexity. Barmou, who has a history of cooperation with U.S. special forces, understands the risks to this bilateral military relationship. Nuland also highlighted the threat posed by the Wagner Group, a notorious private military company with deep ties in Africa, warning that any engagement with Wagner could jeopardize Niger’s sovereignty.

While in Niamey, Nuland sought to meet President Bazoum, detained under house arrest with his family. Although denied access, she communicated with him via phone, pressing the junta for humane treatment and gestures of goodwill. Her discussions with Nigerien civil society leaders, including journalists and human rights activists, further underscored the broad concerns about the junta’s actions and the future of democracy in Niger.

In a parallel diplomatic effort, a planned joint mission by ECOWAS, the UN, and the African Union to engage the junta was abruptly canceled due to the junta’s “unavailability.” This setback highlighted the increasing isolation of Niger’s military rulers. ECOWAS is scheduled to meet in Abuja, Nigeria, to deliberate further actions, including the possibility of military intervention.

Nuland’s visit and her candid exchanges with the junta represent a pivotal moment in Niger’s political crisis. As the U.S. and its allies navigate these turbulent waters, the stakes are incredibly high for Niger’s future and the stability of the broader West African region. The international community watches closely, hoping for a return to constitutional order but prepared for the challenging road ahead.

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