THE Reagan administration and Secretary of State George Shultz have been on the right track on Angola -- attempting to obtain through diplomacy a deescalation in the fighting and a removal of the estimated 35,000 Cuban soldiers supporting the Marxist regime. They have been seeking to persuade South Africa to leave Namibia once the Cuban troops are gone from Angola. Washington has been negotiating for these ends with leverage, holding out the prospect that failure of the diplomatic effort ultimately might lead Washington to provide future covert aid for the anti-government forces of Jonas Savimbi, head of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola).
And it has properly opposed the efforts of some in Congress to provide millions openly to Savimbi. The Senate this week rejected one such effort, as the House Rules Committee had turned down another, making it unlikely that Congress will pass any such proposal this year.
The issues are complex and debatable. But on balance the situation seems more properly addressed at this time by diplomacy, not force. Thus it is disturbing to hear reports that the administration at year's end is likely to seek congressional approval of covert aid to UNITA.
UNITA's major benefactor has been South Africa. If the United States provided aid, most of the nations of the third world, including Africa, would think that the US was lining up with South Africa. That is the wrong signal to send, ironically when Washington is trying to distance itself from Pretoria.
In addition, military aid likely would lead not to victory but to stepped-up assistance to the Angolan government from Cuba or its Soviet sponsor, thus pushing Angola ever deeper into Moscow's arms.
US Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker is expected to hold a second round of talks this month with Angolan leaders, following up last month's meetings. These and any future negotiations should be pursued vigorously; military aid is not a viable solution, as a majority in Congress now appear to agree.