WASHINGTON, REUTERS) – U.S. State Department’s acting No. 2 traveled to Niger and held talks on Monday with senior officials from the country’s junta which seized power last month, but made no progress in meetings she described as “difficult”.
U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was in Niamey, she told reporters in a call, and met with Moussa Salaou Barmou, the self-proclaimed defense chief of Niger’s junta and three other colonels supporting him.
Washington offered ways to restore democratic order, Nuland said, but the junta officials showed little interest. The U.S. side conveyed what is at stake in terms of economic assistance and other aid if the situation is not reversed, she added.
“These conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult, because, again, we’re pushing for a negotiated solution. It was not easy to get traction there. They are quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the Constitution of Niger,” Nuland said.
“It was difficult today and I will be straight up about that.”
Nuland spoke two hours with Barmou and his team and there were some side conversations. Her requests to meet with ousted president Mohamed Bazoum or with junta leader Abdourahamane Tiani were not granted.
The coup, the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years, has rocked the Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world. Given its uranium and oil riches and its pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants, Niger holds importance for the U.S., Europe, China and Russia.
Landlocked Niger is more than twice the size of France and many flight paths across Africa would normally pass above it.
It was unclear how or when any further negotiations with the junta officials would continue.
“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 constitutional order, we are prepared to help with that, we are prepared to help address concerns on all sides. I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer but I hope that they will think about it,” Nuland said.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has sent military forces into troubled member states in the past, had told the junta to stand down by Sunday, but coup leaders instead closed Niger’s airspace and pledged to defend the country.