Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to Niger’s capital Niamey on Monday and held what she described as “difficult” talks with members of the junta that ousted Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum in a July 26 coup.
“Traveled to Niamey to express grave concern at the undemocratic attempts to seize power and urged a return to constitutional order,” Nuland wrote on X, formally known as Twitter.
Nuland spoke with reporters on the phone after her talks and said the “conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult because, again, we were pushing for a negotiated solution.” She said the coup leaders are “quite firm in their view on how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the constitution of Niger.”
Nuland said she met with Moussa Salaou Barmou, who has declared himself Niger’s defense chief, and three other colonels. Journalist Nick Turse reported for The Intercept that Barmou had previously received military training from the US, something Nuland mentioned in the call with reporters.
“General Barmou, former Colonel Barmou, is somebody who has worked very closely with US Special Forces over many, many years,” she said. “So we were able to go through in considerable detail the risks to aspects of our cooperation that he has historically cared about a lot. So we are hopeful that that will sink in.”
The Biden administration has said it paused assistance to Niger but has not officially declared the situation a coup since that would require cutting off all aid. The US has been cooperating militarily with Niger for many years and has about 1,100 troops in the country, along with a major drone base.
The US has backed threats of military intervention to reinstate Bazoum made by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is holding a second emergency summit on the coup this Thursday. Nuland did not mention potential military intervention in the call with reporters and was not asked about the possibility. She said the US hoped the junta would keep “the door open to diplomacy” but sounded doubtful that they would.
Nuland said she spoke with Bazoum by phone but was denied a meeting with the ousted leader, who is being held under house arrest. She was also denied a meeting with Niger’s declared leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tiani. “So we were left to have to depend on Mr. Barmou to make clear, again, what is at stake,” she said.
Nuland said she also warned the junta against cooperation with Wagner, the Russian mercenary force. “I raised Wagner and its threat to those countries where it is present, reminding them that security gets worse, that human rights get worse when Wagner enters. I would not say that we learned much more about their thinking on that front,” she said.