Niger’s new military government has rebuffed latest talks offer by Western-backed African Union (AU) and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) following the expiration of their initial military action threat against the nation as the US military insists on keeping its forces in Niger amid fear of a potential intervention.
The AU on Tuesday planned to dispatch a joint mission to Niger, along with representatives of the United Nations and ECOWAS aimed at restoring the country’s ousted West-sponsored President Mohamed Bazoum, but the nation’s new leader denied permission for the visit and closed Niger’s airspace resisting US-led pressure to negotiate “reversing” the coup.
Leaders of ECOWAS and AU, meanwhile, are reportedly preparing for a summit on Thursday to discuss the “possibility of military intervention” with Niger’s coup leaders, who defied a Sunday deadline to reinstate overthrown Bazoum – a staunch Western ally – or face military action, AFP and other major Western news agencies reported Tuesday.
However, the bloc – led by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu – has been cited as emphasizing that diplomacy remains the “best way forward” to resolve the Niger crisis despite its earlier threat of military action against Niamey.
ECOWAS had given officers who seized power in Niamey on July 26 a seven-day ultimatum to reinstate Bazoum or face the potential use of force, but the coup leaders defied the warning.
Tinubu and other West African leaders “would prefer a resolution that was obtained through diplomatic means, through peaceful means, rather than any other,” his spokesman Chief Ajuri Ngelale declared as quoted in an Al Jazeera report.
“That will be a position that is maintained going forward, pending any other resolution that may or may not result from the ECOWAS extraordinary summit holding on Thursday,” Ngelale further noted.
The Nigerian president “has been unequivocal in his position that diplomacy is the best way forward,” he added, and “is representing the consensus position of the ECOWAS heads of state.”
The Nigerian presidential spokesman, however, underlined that “military intervention has not, and will not be taken off of the table.”
This is while Niger’s new military leaders have already snubbed meetings with a top US diplomat that secretly visited the nation this week as well as another ECOWAS delegation that also attempted to negotiate with them.
US Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland flew to Niamey on Monday but was denied permission to meet with coup leader Abdourahamane Tchiani or with Bazoum, who remains in custody. She reportedly warned Niger’s new leaders against seeking Russian military help and also hinted US military action if Bazoum is not restored to power.
In contrast, Tchiani met on Monday with a joint delegation from Mali and Burkina Faso, neighboring countries where the military has also seized power from civilian governments. The two military administrations have pledged support for the coup in Niger.
“We will not accept military intervention in Niger. Our survival depends on it,” Abdoulaye Maiga, a spokesman for Mali’s military government, said in an appearance on Niger state television.
US-led Western allies fear that Niger could follow the lead of Mali, which expelled French troops and UN peacekeepers and invited Russian forces into the impoverished nation after a military government took control in 2021.
Niger is the world’s seventh largest producer of uranium, the most widely used fuel for nuclear energy, adding to its strategic importance.
The West African bloc has imposed sanctions on Niger, and its Western allies have suspended aid to the country as well in efforts to pressure coup leaders to return the former president to power.
Pentagon keeping US forces in Niger despite being snubbed
The development comes amid insistence by the US Defense Department that American troops will remain in Niger as a show of “commitment” to the country and the region.
"We're going to continue to engage from a military standpoint," said Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh during a Tuesday briefing. "I think the fact that our force posture has not changed sends a message that we're committed to the region, we're committed to Niger."
The country has been a partner in the U.S. efforts against terror groups in the region -- including the location of an American drone base -- but was thrown into turmoil last month when its military rose up and deposed the first democratically elected and seated president in decades, leaving the future uncertain.
"We are hopeful that there will be a diplomatic resolution to this attempted coup that took place in Niger," Singh claimed, clearly suggesting persisting US military efforts to intervene in Niger’s crisis and return Bazoum back to power.
Singh further insisted that Washington does not want to "abandon Nigeriens that we've partnered with that we've trained with over many years," before claiming that "Niger is, of course, an important ally within the region when it comes to counterterrorism and other operations."
Moreover, Singh also stressed that the US military presence in the country is heavily contingent on American citizens and service members being safe from harm.
"If their lives are at risk, of course, we're going to make that change and, of course, we will address that," she then noted, without elaborating on how the US military intends to address such risks.
Wagner chief taunts US over Nuland’s Niger remarks
Meanwhile, the leader of Russia’s Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin ridiculed Washington on Tuesday after Nuland’s remarks against the military contractor during her secret visit to Niger in an attempt to pressure the country’s new leaders to reverse the coup and return the ousted president to power.
"The US is trying to keep the Wagner group out of Niger," Prigozhin said in a message posted on Telegram social media platform as reported by Russian media outlets. "'Heavy artillery' is being brought in for this. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is in a country that defeated colonialism under Russian flags."
"I got the sense in my meetings today that the people who have taken this action here understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in," Nuland warned Niger’s coup leaders after being denied a meeting with them.
Prigozhin directly referenced Nuland's quote about the "risks to their sovereignty" in relation to Wagner and praised his fighters.
"The US has recognized a government that it did not recognize yesterday just to avoid meeting the Wagner PMC [Private Military Company] in the country," he further stated mockingly.
Reacting to Prigozhin’s scornful remarks, a US State Department was cited by the US-based Newsweek magazine as claiming: "We've seen the Kremlin-backed Wagner transnational criminal group exploit and amplify instability around the world, including in Africa."
"We have no indication to date the Wagner Group instigated the actions of these members of the Nigerien Presidential guard,” he admitted, insisting, however, that “Yevgeny Prigozhin has publicly lauded this move and other attempted overthrows."