Portugal is trying to dissuade the United States from giving aid to UNITA guerrillas fighting Angola's Marxist government. Foreign Minister Andre Goncalves Pereira said recently that Portugal would oppose any US move to support the Luanda government's internal enemies.
Lisbon's own relations with its former African colony have improved greatly over the past few months, and the government thinks Western interests are best served by coming to terms with Angola's Marxist leadership.
Despite the Angolan government's dependence on Soviet arms and an estimated 15,000 to 19,000 Cuban troops, only a small percentage of the country's external trade is with Eastern bloc countries.
The main markets for Angola's valuable exports, including oil, diamonds, and coffee, is the West, which in return can offer badly needed finance and technology for the country's development.
Portugal believes that Angola's leaders are essentially pragmatists, more committed to national development than Marxist theory.
Foreign Ministry officials say privately that the more Angola becomes economically dependent on the West, the more its leaders will shrug off the Soviet political grip.
The officials also doubt whether guerrillas of Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) could form a stable national government if the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) Workers' Party were overthrown.
Many of them know personally the leaders of both sides and are deeply suspicious of UNITA's mainly regional appeal and its almost exclusive power base among the Ovimbundu tribe.
The Portuguese government thinks that destabilization in Angola would jeopardize a peace settlement in neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa) and could plunge southern Africa into political chaos that would only be detrimental to Western interests.
Speaking to foreign journalists, Mr. Goncalves Pereira said President Reagan's efforts to repeal the Clark amendment (which bans covert US aid to Angolan opposition forces), was an American internal matter.
He acknowledged that an eventual repeal might put psychological pressure on Angola to accept new Western proposals for a peaceful independence settlement in Namibia.
But the foreign minister was firm in opposing any US move to support Angolan dissidents, and informed sources said he had put this view strongly to US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger during a Lisbon stopover in late May.
Mr. Goncalves Pereira said Portugal had not been asked to take part in the international search for a Namibia settlement, but added that Lisbon wanted to contribute to a peaceful solution of the problem.
Portugal is in a unique position to be a mediator between Angola and the West. It ruled Angola until 1975 and there is new warmth in relations between Lisbon and Luanda.
President Antonio Ramalho Eanes plans to undertake the first visit ever to Angola by a Western head of state since the country's independence later this year.
Lisbon wants to see peace and stability in southern Africa, but its main interest there is commercial, not political.
The Portuguese are anxious to recover trade with Angola and Mozambique and to win contracts for the economic development of their former colonies.
Last April, Secretary of State for Energy Joao Nuno de Carvalho Carreira visited Angola to clear the way for Portuguese companies to assist in the expansion of the country's electrical power network. He came away with an additional promise that Portugal would also be given a share in developing Angola's offshore oil.
Angolan Energy Minister Pedro Van Dunem will visit Lisbon this month to take matters further.
So long as Portugal is able to develop trade links with southern Africa freely, it has no great ambitions to take part in a new Geneva conference.