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May 6th, 2014
04:25 PM ET

Menendez to Nigeria: 'Help us help you'

(CNN) – Amid news of more Nigerian girls being kidnapped by a militant Islamist group, the country's President said he welcomed an offer of U.S. support in the search for them, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.

"America has offered assistance in the area of high technology, including satellite imagery, recognisance, and all sort of things, and the president (of Nigeria) has accepted," senior special assistant to the Nigerian president Doyin Okupe told CNN.

"We will take help from anywhere," Okupe said.

Until now, the Nigerian government’s refusal to accept U.S. help to find and save the kidnapped Nigerian girls had been frustrating U.S. policymakers for weeks, and it continues to do so, even with reports Nigeria will finally allow an American team into the country to make a case for assistance.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called upon President Goodluck Jonathan to formally accept offers of help.

"It is beyond my imagination,” the New Jersey Democrat said when asked why the Nigerians had yet to formally accept U.S. help. “I cannot fathom why they have not readily accepted the assistance and been out there asking for it."

"I think the world is going to come upon Nigeria and say, 'You need to engage and help us help you be able to find these young girls,’” Menendez said in an interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

U.S. policymakers argue that since the time girls were kidnapped in April by Islamist group Boko Haram, the United States has offered to help rescue them.

The FBI has offered assistance. The State Department has offered assistance. But the Obama administration has never received a formal request from the Nigerians, nor has the Nigerian government accepted any substantive offers of assistance.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Jonathan on Tuesday to reiterate the offer and underscore its seriousness.

Jonathan has accepted only a team to travel to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can help.

“President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

“In addition, our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell, an interdisciplinary team – and this is what they discussed on the call – that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations, help facilitate information sharing and provide victim assistance. It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations as well as officials with expertise in other areas that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response,” she said.

Though that offer and acceptance have been shrouded in confusing diplo-speak, U.S. policymakers remain frustrated that there has been no formal acceptance of the offer, though they are guardedly optimistic that once the team is there, Jonathan will ultimately do that.

It has taken Nigeria 22 days to even accept this team to talk about U.S. assistance, despite engagement by U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also called the Nigerian foreign minister, in addition to Kerry’s outreach on Tuesday.

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