France furious with US over Niger – Le Figaro
The presence of the 'Maidan midwife,' US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in post-coup Niger has enraged Washington's NATO ally, France, Le Figaro reported over the weekend, citing a source within the French Foreign Ministry.
The US “did the exact opposite of what we thought they would do,” the French daily reported, based on the diplomat’s comments. “With allies like these, we do not need enemies,” it added. Paris has been insisting on the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum ever since a new military government came to power in Niger in a coup in late July.
The French government was also ready to support the use of force by West African nations for that purpose, as it upheld the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in its decision to mobilize reserve forces in the wake of the ousting.
By sending Nuland to Niger, the US demonstrated it was ready to talk to the coup leaders instead, Le Figaro said. “For [French President] Emmanuel Macron, the credibility of France, particularly in terms of discourse on democracy, was at stake. For the Americans, even if they are also concerned about a rapid return to constitutional order, the priority is the stability of the region,” the paper’s source within the foreign ministry said.
Americans simply want “to keep their bases” in the region above all else, the diplomat said, adding that Washington “will not hesitate” to drop a demand for what he called “constitutional legality” to achieve this goal.
Now, Paris fears that Washington could reach an agreement with Niger’s military government behind France’s back.
The US has a sizable force on the ground in Niger, amounting to some 1,300 soldiers and almost equaling that of France, which has around 1,500 servicemen in the country. American troops are divided between two bases, located in the Niger capital of Niamey and the northern city of Agadez.
Agadez is reportedly of particular importance for Washington as it houses a landing strip for drones and serves as a surveillance hub for a large area stretching from West Africa to Libya in the north.
According to Le Figaro, Paris is also displeased by the fact that, despite both France and the US having troops in Niger, it is only the French presence that provokes resentment among the locals. “The United States, like our other allies for that matter, has a habit of letting us take the hits,” the French diplomat told the paper.
The coup in Niger took place on July 26, when the presidential guard headed by General Abdourahamane Tchiani detained Bazoum and his family, citing a “deteriorating security situation and bad governance.” The move sparked condemnation from global powers, while ECOWAS imposed harsh sanctions on Niger and issued an ultimatum to the coup leaders to release Bazoum or face military intervention.
On Monday, Niger’s military government agreed to hold talks with ECOWAS in a bid to defuse tensions in the region.
Nuland visited Niger last Monday. During the talks, she warned the new military government against striking any deals with the Russian private military company Wagner and urged them to restore the Washington-friendly status quo.