Signs of a way out of the Angola-Namibia quagmire. Quick action by S. Africa, Angola needed for a solution

The chances for a United States-negotiated solution to the Angola-Namibia situation are dwindling. US officials say they have put Angola and South Africa on notice that unless they respond seriously to US ideas for a solution in the next several weeks, time will run out during this administration.

During talks in March, the US gave both sides new formulations for moving forward on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and South African troops from Angola and Namibia. South African-controlled Namibia would gain independence in the process.

``All the players are putting out trial balloons and looking for the avenue of least decision,'' a US official says. ``We told them all if they think they can get further by other means to try, but we think our diplomacy still has the best chance of success, if they are serious.''

South Africa's foreign minister told US Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker that his country is still willing to work for a solution on the basis of granting independence to Namibia, if the 40,000 Cuban troops are withdrawn from Angola. But he said his government's Cabinet would have to decide how to respond to the latest US ideas. Otherwise, the prime minister had only ``unrealistic proposals'' of his own, one US official says.

The South African government is split on the issue, sources say. The increasingly influential security forces want to hang onto Namibia and try to get the Cubans out of Angola in exchange for withdrawing South African troops currently in that country. The South African Foreign Ministry reportedly prefers to stick with the old linkage. Given the new hard-line stance of the government in domestic affairs, it is far from clear South Africa will be willing to earnestly pursue a solution.

Angola's government is also divided on whether to negotiate and is tempted to wait to see what the next US administration might bring, US sources say. In March, Angolan and Cuban negotiators gave US officials a formula that reportedly called for withdrawing 25,000 of the 40,000 Cuban troops in one year and moving the rest to the north, above the 13th Parallel, where they would gradually leave over two years. In exchange, all South African troops would leave Angola, and Namibia would be granted independence in one year, under United Nations supervision. They also asked for an end to all outside aid to UNITA.

Washington said the proposal is not yet ``realistic,'' though the Angolans are showing movement. ``It is the opening bid for an end game,'' a key US player says.

In US-Soviet talks last month, the Soviets said they had no interest in dealing directly with South Africa as several South African leaders had publicly suggested. They also opposed a solution that did not involve independence for Namibia, US officials say. Basically, says one specialist, Moscow is working on the premise that if the US can work out a settlement that the Angolan government accepts, that's fine. But ``we're not going to weigh in prematurely - we'll just stay with the flow.'' In this vein, the Soviets made clear they were not willing to cut their billion-dollar annual aid to Angola, despite urging the US to stop its covert aid to UNITA.

US frustration with both sides is growing. But increasing South African domestic repression of blacks and attacks on external opponents are alienating administration officials. ``It increasingly looks like they have written us off as a useful partner,'' given their increasing preoccupation ``with putting the black genie back in the bottle,'' says one. Could there be a shift in US policy? ``What if the President didn't veto a sanctions bill?'' a senior official quips.

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