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U.S. continues to push for a diplomatic resolution in Niger

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Biden administration sent a top diplomat to Niger this week to talk coup leaders into getting back into constitutional order. But the coup leaders are dug in and don't seem interested in a negotiated solution. Today they even rebuffed a delegation from the African Union, the United Nations and a West African regional group. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland says she spent a couple of hours with the man who now claims to be defense minister in Niger. General Moussa Barmou has worked closely with U.S. Special Forces over many years and was trained by the U.S.

VICTORIA NULAND: 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.

KELEMEN: But Nuland says she didn't get any traction when she pushed for a negotiated settlement. Cameron Hudson, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described Nuland's trip this way.

CAMERON HUDSON: It felt a little bit like a Hail Mary, quite frankly, but I think a worthwhile one. Washington has invested, you know, billions of dollars in development assistance and military aid to Niger.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken held up Niger as a model for the region when he visited earlier this year. Now the U.S. has put some aid on hold, including a military training program. The U.S. still has about 1,000 troops based in Niger. Hudson believes the coup leaders do want continued support from the U.S., but that won't happen if they let Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group get involved, as some neighboring states have.

HUDSON: If they want to have any relationship with Washington, it cannot also include the Wagner Group operating in the country. So that's a pretty clear red line that Washington has laid down. And I think it's going to be the junta leaders that decide which way they want to lean going forward.

KELEMEN: The State Department's Victoria Nuland says she raised concerns about Wagner when she was in Niger Monday.

NULAND: I would not say that we learned much more about their thinking on that front.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials do not think that the Wagner Group instigated the coup in Niger, but they are worried that the Russian mercenary group is taking advantage of the instability. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF PICOTHEGUYYO SONG, "ONE EPISODE AT A TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.