The United States believes the situation in Angola and Namibia (South-West Africa) is ripe for solution and would like to see Soviet endorsement of the US-proposed regional peace package, says a senior US foreign affairs official. President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will discuss the situation next week. US officials say Moscow's cooperation would allow it gracefully to reduce a commitment that would only become more expensive if a solution is not found.
Since 1981, the US has been trying to forge agreement to reduce tensions in southwestern Africa. The basis of the peace plan is a trade-off whereby the 40,000 Cuban troops would leave Angola and, in return, South African troops would withdraw from the territory of Namibia and let the UN bring that country to independence.
However, until recently, the US brokering effort was deadlocked, officials say. The government of Angola has shown little interest in a simultaneous and total withdrawal of Cuban troops. They demanded all the South Africans out first.
Since last summer, however, the Angolans have been more flexible. And for some time, officials say, the Soviets have also been taking a more forthcoming line on Angola, agreeing in principle on mutual withdrawal, for example. But the proof is in the pudding, one specialist says, and so far, the Soviets have not turned their words into deeds.
Moscow provided more than $1 billion in military aid to Angola this year, a senior official says. Much of that was lost or destroyed in this fall's failed government offensive against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels. Given Angola's dire economic straits, Moscow probably won't be repaid, he says, and yet will be pressed to send more aid.
Soviet planes and pilots provide most of the logistic support within Angola, he adds, and Moscow has advisers in many key sectors. Thus, if the Soviets told Angola (and Cuba) ``we think you ought to move,'' he says it would have an impact. But, he adds, a lot of tough decisions would still have to be made by Angola and South Africa.
A decision to support the US effort would be relatively easy for Moscow, the senior official says. Only the Cubans would have to leave under the US proposal, and Soviet aid to the Angolan government could continue. Moscow would save face and, as military tensions diminish, a lot of aid money as well.
US officials say Angola's renewed interest in talks has not waned since South Africa's trumpeting of its role in crushing the government offensive against UNITA this fall. (South Africa and the US provide support for UNITA, which has fought the Angolan government since independence in 1975.) South Africa also remains interested in the US package, they say.
Despite the face-saving rhetoric from both sides, US officials say the recent fighting can only underline the need for a nonmilitary solution. For the Angola government and its Cuban and Soviet allies, the fighting represented a stunning defeat after 18 months of planning, US officials say.
A great deal of Soviet weaponry was lost (estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars). UNITA troops were very effective, officials say, and South Africa's intervention demonstrated its prowess. The idea of moving South African troops more than 1,000 kilometers away, instead of right next door in Namibia, can only seem more attractive to the beleaguered government and its allies, a senior official says.
South Africa intervened to insure that the combined Angolan-Cuban force not overwhelm UNITA, US officials say. It publicized the involvement, they add, both to justify the casualties to its electorate and also to remind everybody that South Africa can't be ignored. The publicity appears to have miffed UNITA. Its Washington representative says South Africa's role was secondary and US covert military support was much more significant in the outcome.
On the other hand, the 20 to 50 white South Africans killed underline the costs for that country of continued tension, officials say. Though the Angolan government suffered a major defeat, they add, the victory has not altered the strategic balance in Angola.
US officials are also intrigued by the prospect of progress on internal reconciliation between UNITA and the ruling Popular Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA). If this process gets under way, US officials assert, it would compliment the US effort to reduce regional tensions.