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Hopes for Dialogue Dim in Niger as Junta Clings to Power

The new military leaders of Niger have rebuffed diplomatic efforts by the United States, the United Nations and regional groups to resolve a crisis sparked by a coup in the West African nation, dimming hopes that civilian rule will be restored soon.

The soldiers who took over Niger last month refused on Tuesday to meet a delegation of envoys from the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, the 15-member regional bloc known as ECOWAS.

A day earlier, Victoria Nuland, the acting U.S. deputy Secretary of State, made a surprise trip to Niger but left after talks with one of the coup leaders that she described as “extremely frank and at times quite difficult.”

She also failed to secure assurances that President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger would be reinstated or civilian rule would be restored, and she was denied a meeting with the junta’s leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani.

The situation in Niger has threatened to derail years of Western security and aid assistance to one of the world’s poorest countries and a key ally in a region stricken by widespread instability that has been the site of seven military takeovers in less than three years.

Niger, a landlocked nation of 25 million people, hosts at least 2,600 Western troops, including 1,100 Americans, who have trained the country’s military and used it as a base to monitor Islamist insurgencies.

The future of that partnership now appears to be in doubt, as the generals who seized power in Niger have severed military ties with France, which has 1,500 troops in the country, and said little about whether they plan to continue cooperating with the United States.

Ms. Nuland said shortly before departing from Niger that she had offered several options to a coup leader to resolve the stalemate and maintain the relationship with the United States. But, she added, “I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer.”

She told reporters that she was denied a meeting with Mr. Bazoum, who has been detained in his private residence since July 26, and General Tchiani, who removed him from power.

Diplomats and officials from West Africa said they still were hoping for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, even after an ultimatum from ECOWAS for the coup leaders to relinquish power expired on Sunday.

ECOWAS, which has threatened military action against the coup leaders, is scheduled to meet for an extraordinary summit on Thursday. It has frozen financial transactions with Niger and closed borders between the country and its neighbors. Niger’s junta closed the country’s airspace on Sunday evening.

Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, Niger’s prime minister, who was in Rome during the coup and is now in Paris, said the next few days leading up to the ECOWAS meeting left space for a “happy outcome.”

“The president has not resigned,” Mr. Mahamadou said in a telephone interview with The New York Times.

“The junta doesn’t have a firm hold on Niger’s institutions and constitutional order,” he said, adding, “The institutions can still be put back in place.”

Ms. Nuland, the United States envoy, said she had received no assurance of that. “They are quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed,” she said.

Hours after Mr. Mahamadou spoke with The Times on Monday, the junta in Niger said it had replaced him with a new prime minister, Lamine Zen, a civilian and former finance minister. Nearly two weeks after the coup, the military leaders have not announced a timeline for a transition or when elections might take place.

The junta also named a new head to the country’s presidential guard, the unit tasked with protecting Mr. Bazoum but which detained him last month. General Tchiani, who led the unit at the time of the coup, now appears to be in charge of the country.

Mr. Mahamadou blasted General Tchiani for his actions. “It was easy for him since he was supposed to protect the president,” he said about the takeover. “Then he was joined by other people who were waiting for the right occasion to transform this into a coup.”

As of Tuesday, Mr. Bazoum remained locked in his private residence with his wife and one of his sons, who is in his early 20s. The mutineers have cut electricity and water to the house and do not provide food, said a friend and adviser to Mr. Bazoum who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s situation.

The streets of Niamey, the capital, remained calm on Tuesday despite soaring food prices and uncertainty over the country’s future. Hundreds of young people have posted themselves at the city’s roundabouts at night to check for suspicious cars and weapons, following up on instructions from the junta to defend the country.

It was unclear how Ms. Nuland, the U.S. envoy, was able to reach Niamey despite the airspace closure.

Ms. Nuland said that instead of meeting with General Tchiani, she convened with another coup leader, Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou. General Barmou, the former head of Niger’s special forces and once a close partner of the United States, was named chief of staff of Niger’s military shortly after the coup.

Ms. Nuland added that she had warned Niger’s coup leaders against partnering with the Wagner paramilitary group from Russia, as neighboring Mali has done.

“The people who have taken this action here understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in,” she said.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington, and Omar Hama Saley from Niamey, Niger.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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