US says Niger cooperation beneficial as it awaits answers

The United States on Monday described military ties with Niger, home to a major drone base, as mutually beneficial as it said it was awaiting clarification on an announcement severing cooperation.

The military, which seized power in Niger in July, announced in a statement read on national television Saturday evening that it was breaking off an agreement with the United States “with immediate effect,” but diplomats said there were mixed unofficial messages.

“We are in touch with the transition authorities to seek clarification of their comments and to discuss additional next steps,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, referring to the coup leadership.

“Our security partnerships with West African partners are mutually beneficial and are intended to achieve what we believe to be shared goals of detecting, deterring and reducing terrorist violence and creating an environment conducive to economic and social development,” Patel said.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, had been a frontline partner of the West in battling jihadists in the Sahel, with the United States building a desert drone base at a cost of $100 million.

The junta after seizing power kicked out forces from former colonial power France and, like military-run neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, has pursued relations with Russia.

But the military had not acted against the United States, which still has some 1,000 troops in the country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a rare visit to Niger a year ago in a bid to shore up the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, who has since been put under house arrest.

The junta statement came shortly after the top US military commander for Africa, General Michael Langley, and senior civilian officials visited Niger and met top junta leaders.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said that the delegation was “direct and frank” about US concerns over the coup.

“We were troubled on the path that Niger is on,” she told reporters.

“US officials expressed concern over Niger’s potential relationships with Russia and Iran,” she said.

But she said that the “lengthy” discussions also looked at “how to chart a new path of cooperation forward, emphasizing the importance of respecting Niger’s sovereignty and concerns from both sides.”


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