The United States has failed to budge stalled negotiations on Namibian independence - despite face-to-face dialogue in African capitals this month between top-level US and African officials.
The impasse on Namibia is so vast that the US's partners in a Western attempt to work out a settlement may bow out of the effort, diplomatic sources say. Failure of both this Western ''contact group'' (US, Britain, Canada, West Germany, and France) effort and of separate US efforts means that prospects for Namibian independence in the foreseeable future are dim, say these sources.
One of the key sticking points in negotiations is US insistence that Namibian independence be linked to expulsion of Cuban troops from Angola, Namibia's neighbor to the south.
US Vice-President George Bush repeatedly insisted on a Cuban pullout as a precondition for a Namibian settlement during his tour of seven African nations, which ended this week. But Bush's African hosts told him just as firmly that the Angola and Namibia issues were separate and should not be linked.
Other officials besides Bush have also failed to gain converts to their point of view. These officials' talks with Africans appear to show there is a flurry of diplomatic activity on Namibia, but the truth of the matter is that they ''mainly provided a camouflage concealing the deep existing impasse over the whole issue,'' says a high-ranking Western diplomat.
Besides Bush, CIA chief William Casey and Under-secretary for African Affairs Chester Crocker have been in Africa. Elliot Abrahams, assistant secretary of state for human rights, is due to go to South Africa soon. In addition, Mr. Crocker has recently visited the capitals of the other four contact group members, and South Africa's Foreign Minister Roelof Botha was in Washington this week to meet with Secretary of State George Shultz.
''These meetings raise a lot of dust but apparently provide no exits from the present deadlock,'' says a well-informed source.
Angola, the front-line states (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Angola , Tanzania), indeed all of Africa including pro-Western regimes such as Kenya and Nigeria, categorically reject linkage of Namibian independence and pullout of Cuban troops from Angola.
French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson also stated recently that ''linkage is unacceptable.'' Privately Canada, West Germany, and Britain are known to agree. For the time being, at US insistance, these contact group members have agreed not to dissolve the group. But if the US continues to insist on coupling a Cuban troop pullout with the Namibian independence - and if Angola remain adamant in rejecting that that linkage - the contact group is likely to break up. It could break up in a matter of months, say several informed and involved diplomats.
South Africa, through recent declarations by Foreign Minister Roelof F. (''Pik'') Botha and Defense Minister Magnus Malan, has made it clear that ''it will not allow the red flag to fly over Windhoek,'' Namibia's capital. Pretoria now is committed to setting up a new internal government in Namibia. This, analysts say, is an effort to strengthen South Africa's hand against SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization). If free elections were held in Namibia - as has been proposed in the Namibia negotiations and by the United Nations in Security Council Resolution 435 - it is widely believed SWAPO would win. South Africa, however, considers SWAPO to be ''a tool in Moscow's hands.''
If South Africa rejected free elections in favor of molding its own ''internal solution'' on Namibia's, the world community would consider the action illegal. Resolution 435 makes the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia and independence elections under UN supervision mandatory.
The Reagan administration is engaged in a race against the clock. It banks on the willingness of African states to compromise as a result of their present economic difficulties and need for American aid. ''They may continue to disagree with the US approach to the Namibian issue but at the same time they are likely to mute their criticism,'' says one Africa watcher.
Meanwhile, the Reagan administration, while not saying so publicly, reportedly hopes that the Angolan ''Marxist'' leadership, under the pressure of its economic problems, will either agree to send the Cuban troops home or be toppled by Jonas Savimbi's rebellious UNITA movement.
Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front it is playing for time and needs to keep the ''contact group'' on board, thus giving the impression that things are still moving in the right direction even if in fact they are at a standstill.