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US diplomat meets Niger junta, unallowed to meet ousted president

The second-ranking US diplomat has met Niger’s military leaders to press to reverse a coup but she reported no headway a day after the junta ignored an ultimatum from the West African bloc.

Victoria Nuland, a veteran envoy who is the acting deputy secretary of state, said she met on Monday for more than two hours with chiefs of the military who on July 26 ousted Mohamed Bazoum, a democratically elected Western ally.

She described the talks as “extremely frank and at times quite difficult” but that she offered “a number of options” to exit the crisis and restore the relationship with the United States, which like other Western nations has suspended aid over the coup.

“This was a first conversation in which the United States was offering its good offices if there is a desire on the part of the people who are responsible for this to return to the constitutional order,” she told reporters by telephone before flying out.

“I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer.”

She said the junta did not respond to her requests to meet Niger’s junta’s leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani, or the detained elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, although US officials have been in touch with Bazoum by telephone.

Nuland said she met Brigadier General Moussa Salaou Barmou, who has been named the new military chief of staff and who has worked closely in the past with the United States, which along with former colonial power France has based anti-extremist operations in the Sahel out of Niger.

Nuland said she warned Niger against following neighbouring Mali in bringing in Russia’s Wagner mercenaries.

“The people who have taken this action here understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in,” said Nuland, known for her hawkish stance on Russia.

Regional summit

Nuland’s trip, conducted in secrecy until she left, came after the junta ignored a deadline set by the ECOWAS regional bloc to reinstate Bazoum by midnight (2300 GMT) on Sunday or risk military intervention.

The 15-nation bloc said it would hold a summit on the crisis on Thursday in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

A source close to ECOWAS said an immediate military intervention to restore Bazoum was not being envisaged at this stage.

Mali, which neighbours Niger, said it and Burkina Faso — which have both been suspended from ECOWAS over their own military coups — were sending a joint official delegation to Niamey to show “solidarity (with) the people of Niger”.

They have said military intervention would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Algeria, which shares a long land border with Niger, has also cautioned against a military solution, which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said would be “a direct threat” to his North African country.

Senators in regional heavyweight Nigeria urged everyone to focus on the “political and diplomatic option”.

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