US diplomat meets with junta leaders in Niger

US diplomat meets with junta leaders in Niger

Victoria Nuland says talks with coup leaders were 'difficult,' as they refused to let her meet with ousted president

By Iclal Turan

WASHINGTON (AA) - A senior US diplomat traveled to Niger on Monday, where she had "frank" and "difficult" talks with the leaders of the military coup.

"They are quite firm in their view on how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the constitution of Niger," Acting Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told reporters during a teleconference.

"We kept open the door to continue talking. But again, it was difficult today, and I will be straight up about that," she said.

Nuland said Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked her to make the trip to Niger while she was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to attend peace talks on Ukraine. She added that the US "wanted to speak frankly to the people responsible to this challenge to the democratic order to see if we could try to resolve these issues diplomatically."

She said she was also able to meet with a "broad cross-section" of Nigerien civil society, including "long-time friends" of the US, journalists and activists.

Nuland also met with Moussa Salaou Barmou, the self-proclaimed chief of defense, and three colonels supporting him for “extremely frank and at times quite difficult” conversations, she said.

She said her requests to meet with President Mohamed Bazoum were denied.

"We’ve talked to him on the phone, but we haven’t seen him – and that was never granted," she said. "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."

"We also were not granted an opportunity to see the self-proclaimed president, Mr. (Abdourahmane) Tiani. So we were left to have to depend on Mr. Barmou to make clear, again, what is at stake," she said.

Earlier on Monday, the State Department confirmed that the US has been in direct contact with coup leaders in Niger "in the last week to 10 days" to urge them to "step aside."

On July 26, a group of soldiers calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country seized power after detaining President Bazoum, saying they took the step due to the "deteriorating security situation and bad governance."

Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first democratic power transition since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960.

Many countries as well as regional blocs have called for the ousted president to be reinstated. Coup leader Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, however, has rejected the calls as interference in the country’s internal affairs.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which consists of 15 countries, will hold another emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

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