The Angolan peace talks took a big step forward this week. Negotiators from Angola, South Africa, Cuba, and the United States agreed Wednesday in New York on a set of principles to guide detailed negotiations over the next two months that participants hope will lead to a withdrawal of foreign forces from the region.
The still-secret principles agreed to on Wednesday are now being submitted to the governments of Angola, South Africa, and Cuba for approval. The next round of talks between senior experts is slated for the week of Aug. 2.
``There was a real spirit of give and take in the talks that wasn't there before,'' says a participant. ``Each side put aside its ideological boxing gloves and got down to business with sharpened pencils.''
After seven years of US efforts to mediate the problem, the 2 days of talks have boosted the chances of success over the 50-50 mark, say US officials and congressional aides who follow Angola.
``These principles have a lot of meat,'' says a senior administration source, and ``set a strong basis for working out the withdrawal plan and mutual guarantees needed for an overall package.''
The goal is an accord on the mutual withdrawal of the 45,000 to 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola and the 20,000 to 25,000 South African troops from neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa) and southern Angola. Washington and Moscow are working for an agreement by Sept. 29.
The withdrawal timetable is still under negotiation. But South Africa reportedly recommitted itself to going forward with the United Nations plan for granting independence to Namibia and to setting an implementation date. In return, all Cuban troops would leave Angola.
``There is a lot of tough work ahead, but this reflects a will on the part of participants to find a solution,'' says the senior source beaming.
Two major sticking points are South Africa's willingness to pull out of Namibia and ending Angola's civil war.
South Africa seems to be moving closer to the idea of granting independence to Namibia, a US official says, but has not quite yet ``made the final leap.'' There is significant opposition in the South African military and elsewhere in the government to pulling out of Namibia. Similarly, the Angolans and Cubans are showing new flexibility. But Washington continues to receive reports of hesitation, especially on the Cuban side.
The US is urging Angola's government to begin reconciliation discussions with the antigovernment UNITA forces in parallel with the troop-withdrawal talks. On Wednesday, Chester Crocker, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, called on the Angolan government, UNITA, and African countries to find creative means to reach an internal settlement. He said the US is willing to help in the process.
Moscow played an important role in resolving differences during the previous round of talks in Cairo, according to participants, and this time helped resolve some pre-meeting hitches. In New York, they add, the US mediators intervened at a number of points to help the parties get around potential impasses.
The late-June military clash between South African troops and Cuban and Angolan forces ``focused everybody's mind,'' says another participant in the negotiations. ``Both sides were bloodied and began to reflect on the need to reduce tensions.''