LAST week's Angola-South Africa agreement is a laudable first step toward the goal of peace in the troubled southwestern section of the African continent. But the progress it represents needs to be viewed with great caution. Enormous steps must be taken to realize this ultimate aim, or to provide independence for Namibia, also called South-West Africa.
The two nations deserve much credit: first for having agreed, despite their long conflict, to sit down together in a public conference as they did in Lusaka , Zambia, and then for having reached the agreement. It establishes a joint South African-Angolan commission to supervise the withdrawal of Pretoria's military forces from Angola's southwestern border with Namibia.
The US and its representative, Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, similarly deserve credit for their hard work which brought about the meeting.
The Angola-South Africa meetings are only one part of a broader picture. South Africans also are conducting talks with their neighbors to the northeast, Mozambique, in a not-dissimilar effort to defuse tensions. In both cases South Africa is trying to use a carrot-and-stick technique. It is saying to its neighbors, in effect: you stop supporting anti-South African movements, such as the African National Congress (operating out of Mozambique) or SWAPO (operating from Angola) and we will stop supporting dissident forces operating against your governments - and, in Angola's case, pull our troops out of your country.
In the Angola-South Africa talks, sponsored by the US, it is important to recognize that all three nations had self-interest in reaching the agreement and that enormous hurdles remain before further progress occurs.
For the United States the accord represents a much-needed foreign policy success after the debacle of Lebanon and the dubious situation in El Salvador.
It offers the Reagan administration the opportunity to say that its policy of trying to move South Africa forward through encouragement and discussion is more effective than the alternative, practiced by the Carter administration, of seeking change in South African policies through confrontation and public criticism.
For its part, Angola wants South African troops to leave its territory and stay out. The commission presumably is intended to make sure that happens.
South African troops entered Angola to attack SWAPO guerrilla forces which, using Angola as a sanctuary, raid Namibia in the name of seeking its independence.
South Africa also is served by the agreement. For some while international diplomats have felt South Africa wanted relief from attacks by the SWAPO forces. This may turn out to be one result of the commission's presence, by denying the guerrillas sanctuary in Angola. In addition, the warfare is a drain on South Africa in terms of finances and diplomacy.
Further, Africa expressed willingness to reach this agreement only after its recent military incursion deep into Angola, and at the start of the season during which it is most advantageous for the guerrillas to mount their own offensive.
For peace to be achieved through all of southwestern Africa the next step would need to be finding some way to deal with the Angolan UNITA guerrilla movement, which, with some South African backing, has achieved major military successes against the Angolan government. That is why the Angolans wish to keep Cuban troops in their nation and the US has insisted the Cubans must be withdrawn as part of an overall settlement.
Withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia at this point is contingent upon, among other things, withdrawal of the Cuban troops. So far as is known, the Lusaka conference did not resolve these thorny and interconnected issues.
But even the longest journey must start with a first step. What has been achieved certainly is a good step. All sides now should commit themselves to work toward solution of the deeper issues.