Washington — The Reagan administration has now given South Africa much of what if wants in the way of American recognition and sympathy. This has cost the United States heavily in goodwill among leading black African nations. But it is still far from clear what the US will get in return.
By vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning South Africa for its invasion of Angola, the US split with key West European allies. It marked the first significant break in unity among the five Western nations -- Canada, France, Britain, West Germany, and the US -- which had previously been pressing South Africa to reach a settlement over its occupation of Namibia, or South-West Africa.
The American action was not an isolated move but part of a broader strategy aimed at creating friendlier US relations with South Africa. It marked a sharp departure from the practice of the Carter administration, whose relations with South Africa were strained because of that administration's criticisms of South Africa's apartheid racial policies.
From the South African point of view, the raid into Angola, which now appears to be ending, produced excellent results. One purpose of the attack, which began last week, appeared to be to destroy Soviet-supplied radar and missile bases that had threatened South Africa's Air Force.
Magnus Malan, the South African defense minister, reported on Sept. 1 that the South African troops in Angola had killed some Soviet officers and captured a Soviet warrant officer. According to United Press International, Malan said that the presence of the Soviets established that there was a direct military link between the Soviets and black African nationalist movements in southern Africa. Malan also said that vast quantities of Soviet weapons were captured.
But some experts on Africa in Washington and New York think the South African assault into Angola will merely force the Angolans into greater dependence on the Soviets and Cubans. Some also fear that it will disrupt progress toward a settlement of the Namibia question.
"We're heading for a Middle East situation, where you've got one major power -- South Africa -- which can dominate its neighbors in a military sense, but which is incapable of stabilizing the situation," said one such expert working for a congressional committee.
Black African diplomats, meanwhile, say the American veto in the UN Security Council will merely fortify South Africa's determination to stay on in Namibia. Diplomats from Nigeria, the largest and most influential of the black African nations, were described as "very disturbed" by the South African invasion and the subsequent mild reaction to it from the US.
Given current conditions in the oil market, Nigeria would be in no position to use its "oil weapon" against the US. But it is in a position to make life more difficult for American oil companies and other firms operating in Nigeria.
State Department officials assert, meanwhile, that the US and its allies have been making process toward a Namibia settlement. They decline to give details.
But some experts outside the US government are convinced that it was the American "tilt" toward South Africa that emboldened the South Africans to send their forces deep into Angola, using Namibia as a launching pad.
The Reagan administration already indicated its goodwill toward South Africa by agreeing to the establishment of more South African honorary consulates in the US, by renewing the exchange of military attaches between the US and South Africa, and by granting authorization for the training of South African coast guardsmen in the US.
Prior to the coming to power of a Socialist regime in france, the Reagan administration was also reported to have acquiesced in the France's possible shipment of enriched uranium to South Africa. South Africa's refusal to sign the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty led to speculation that it was developing nuclear weapons. It also caused the Carter administration to withhold from South Africa uranium fuel supplies.