Strategic, civil war-ravaged, but potentially rich Angola is beginning to look for ways to reduce its almost total dependence on the Soviet Union and Cuba.
And hesitant, tentative efforts by the big West African nation to reach out to the West are spurring renewed attempts within the United States to respond positively.
The Angolan overtures come at what some analysts consider a crucial stage in relations between the US and southern Africa.
With efforts intensifying to resolve the festering struggle in Namibia (South-West Africa), and with Zimbabwe and other black nations in the region struggling to their feet, some American experts believe the US should send an encouraging signal to the region.
It is an area that former US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young calls "potentially one of the richest mineral basins on earth."
One way to send such a signal would be for the US to establish diplomatic relations with Angola, a former Portuguese colony. Proponents of this course argue it would help US business to strengthen links with the oil-and mineral-endowed nations. It would begin to give Angola an alternative to Soviet and Cuban backing. And it would distance the US from white-ruled South Africa, which is supporting Angola's largest antigovernment faction, headed by guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi.
"The nonrecognition of Angola is a testament to the immaturity of the United States' policy on Africa," said Sen. Paul Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts at a recent African-American Insitute (AAI) conference here. "This is a vital ingredient of our policy toward black Africa."
The US has withheld diplomatic recognition from Angola because of its Marxist leanings and the presence of some 20,000 Cuban troops there. Cubans also act as advisers in government ministries -- as do Russians and East Germans. Others are teachers, engineers, and technicians.
YEt Angola is increasingly trying to diversify its outside links. Some signs:
* The government recently released one of three US prisoners held since the country's 1975 civil war. The freeing of Floridian George Cause is being trumpeted by some US officials -- including Senator Tsongas -- as a significant conciliatory signal from the Angolans. The governor of the Bank of Angola, Antonio Victor de Carvalho acknowledged recently here that "in a way it was a goodwill gesture."
* Angola is beginning to encourage more Portuguese to return to help ease skilled-labor shortages. Under an agreement between the two countries, more than 1,000 such workers are expected to return this year, Mr. Carvalho says, most of them to teach. Some US analysts see a return of skilled Portuguese as the key to reducing Cuban influence in Angola.
One businessman who has lived in the area says Angola is "utterly dependent on the Cubans for some infrastructure, for education, and certainly for defense."
* The Angola government also is luring more US and West European investments to help prop up its tattered economy. The Us Export-Import Bank is negotiating a $96 million oil project in the country. Several US companies already have major facilities there -- among them Gulf Oil Corporation and Texaco, Inc. Boeing has been building an airport. Lockheed has been training Angolan pilots.
Still, new US investment runs far behind that of West Europeans such as Italy , France, and Spain, as well as some South American countries (Brazil, for instance).
To foster further economic links, an Angolan delegation, as well as representatives from the African states of Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau , Sno Tome, and Principe met June 13 and 14 with US business and political officials at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. The AAI-sponsored meeting was seen by participants as a step toward a "new realism" in US-African relations.
"They [black southern African countries] have been ready for them," said Ambassador Young at the meeting.
Few US observers expect any change in the US nonrecognition policy toward Angola during an American election year. But backers of a policy change say support is slowly building. One sign: The foreign aid bill approved June 5 by the US House of Representatives, while not earmaking funds for Angola, for the first time removed it from the "blacklist" of countries not to receive aid.