A diplomatic success in Africa

AFTER eight months of tough negotiations and several junctures when it seemed the whole effort might collapse, the United States-sponsored talks among Angola, Cuba, and South Africa last week bore fruit. Meeting in Brazzaville, the three reached agreement on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and an independence process for Namibia (long ruled by South Africa in defiance of United Nations resolutions). Formal signature of the accords will take place in New York later this month. In April of next year, the machinery will begin to turn. Within a year, elections will be held in Namibia and it will become an independent nation. Within 27 months, all Cuban troops will be out of Angola.

If these successful negotiations prove anything, it is that diplomacy often works where unilateral demands and confrontation do not. The Carter administration insisted that Cuban troops leave Angola, but it made no effort to engage all sides in a negotiating process to make that possible. At first, the Reagan administration followed the same pattern. It simply shouted. But then Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker's advice prevailed. Understanding that the only way to bring about the withdrawal of Cuban troops was through a negotiating process which took the security of all sides into account, he persevered in convening the tripartite talks and seeing them through to completion. His felicitous use of diplomacy stands in welcome contrast to the almost psychotic determination with which others in the Department of State have avoided negotiations in Central America.

There are those in the Reagan administration who claim last week's agreements vindicate the Reagan Doctrine, i.e., that it was precisely the administration's decision to give aid to Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in its war against the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government in Luanda which forced the latter, and its Cuban allies, to accept Mr. Crocker's call for negotiations.

The facts, however, do not bear that out. Cuba and the MPLA were seeking an accommodation long before the US began aiding Savimbi. In 1984, for example, they put forward a plan for the phased withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and freedom for Namibia which differed little from the formula just agreed to. The obstacle in 1984 was South Africa. Intent on hanging onto Namibia, it had no interest in negotiations which would lead to its loss. By February of 1988, however, it had changed its mind. Why? Almost certainly because a major Cuban military buildup in Angola last year finally convinced it that it could not win on the battlefield and therefore ought to seek a negotiated solution. Still, it took more pragmatism than Pretoria has displayed in the past to accept that reality.

Mikhail Gorbachev deserves some of the credit also. As part of his stated policy of encouraging the peaceful settlement of regional conflicts, he is known to have expressed strong support for Crocker's efforts and to have urged the Cubans and Angolans to cooperate with them. Not that the latter two needed much encouragement. As suggested by their own initiatives in 1984, they had long wanted a peaceful settlement. Still, Soviet approval helped to move the process along.

The resulting agreements are to everyone's advantage. Cuba and Angola have enhanced the latter's security by getting the South Africans out of Namibia, just to Angola's south. The US and South Africa have brought about the removal of Cuban forces from southern Africa, and done so without abandoning Mr. Savimbi. So long as the internal conflict continues in Angola, they can continue to provide him with material support - just as the Cubans and Soviets will continue to aid the Angolan government. The tripartite agreement does not end the internal conflict. Hopefully, however, it leads in that direction. The government has now said it is prepared to open negotiations with UNITA. A number of African governments have offered to act as mediators between the two warring factions. Both sides have committed hideous atrocities and suspicions and hatreds between them are deep. Accommodation will not be easy, but for the first time the door has opened a crack to that possibility.

Meanwhile, the US Congress must provide tangible support for the agreements. UN peacekeeping forces may not be deployed to supervise the withdrawal process unless Congress appropriates the money to pay US dues. It has not yet done so. It would be a shame to have come so far only to fail because Congress wouldn't pay our share of the cost of peace.

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