It looks like a breakthrough for the United States-sponsored peace talks on southwestern Africa. Cuba, Angola, and South Africa today announced their agreement to:
Begin implementation Nov. 1 of the United Nations plan that will bring independence to Namibia (South-West Africa). The UN plan is to take no more than one year.
Seek agreement by Sept. 1 on a timetable for the staged withdrawal of all Cuban troops from Angola. This would coincide with the South African pullout from Namibia under the UN plan.
A de facto cessation of hostilities. This is embodied in a series of confidence-building measures designed to reduce the risk of confrontation.
During talks last week in Geneva, negotiators from the three countries also agreed on the text of an agreement in the form of a treaty that would serve as the basis for future relations. The text is based on a set of principles worked out during a late-July negotiating session in New York. The governments of Cuba, Angola, and South Africa still have to approve the draft treaty.
Reagan administration officials describe these agreements as a major step toward a final settlement. The next key hurdle, they say, is meeting the Sept. 1 deadline for an agreed troop-withdrawal timetable. Senior officials of the three countries and the US will meet again the week of Aug. 22 to work on this and other issues.
Despite the evident air of optimism in Washington, officials acknowledge that a good deal of compromising is still needed to narrow the gap on the troop-withdrawal timetables and associated verification measures. There is also a lingering suspicion about South Africa's intentions among many people on the margins of the process.
One senior congressional staff member, for example, says Pretoria has previously agreed to cease-fires and troop pullouts from Angola, as well as to carry out the UN plan, but has never been sincere. He is doubtful that South Africa is really willing to give up Namibia, because it serves as a buffer to protect apartheid.
While acknowledging that there is reason to doubt, US officials say the peace process has never proceeded this far in the past. In addition, there are now self-imposed deadlines to test the sincerity of the participants: the Sept. 1 target for a withdrawal timetable and Sept. 29 for an overall package. The Soviet Union and the US earlier agreed to work for the Sept. 29 target, which Cuba initially proposed.
Under the 1978 UN plan for Namibian independence, South Africa would reduce its forces in Namibia by stages. A UN force would replace departing South Africans to monitor the situation during the transitional period. The last South African troops would leave after elections for Namibia's government were held and certified under UN auspecies.
The total transition period is planned to last less than a year. Last week, South Africa proposed that if the UN plan went into effect Nov. 1, elections in Namibia could held next June. It suggested that all Cuban troops be out of Angola by then.
Cuba and Angola rejected that date as too early for the departure of all of the estimated 50,000 troops. But they reportedly agreed to consider options less than the four-year period they originally suggested for a staged withdrawal. US officials are known to believe the Cuban withdrawal must parallel South Africa's pullout much more closely in order to win South African agreement.
Some of the ideas tossed about in the past to bridge the gap have included a total Cuban withdrawal in less than two years. A large majority of the troops would leave early in that period, and all Cuban troops would be pulled out of the southern half of Angola in the first months of the process.
In the days and weeks ahead, a troop pullback and other measures designed to show mutual restraint are reportedly to be carried out in the Angola-Namibia border area as part of agreed confidence-building measures.
Cuban and South African forces clashed in Angola near the border in late June and the measures are aimed at improving the atmosphere for completing negotiations. The pullback is apparently to include withdrawing the 3,000 or so South African troops still in southeastern Angola supporting the forces of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), which is fighting the government of Angola.
Last week's talks among Angola, South Africa, Cuba, and the US did not touch upon Angola's 13-year civil war. But two days of US-Soviet consultations that preceded the four-party talks did discuss the need for national reconciliation in Angola, according to informed sources. These sources say the US shared some ideas about how such reconciliation might proceed.
US officials have made clear that they believe talks to end the civil strife should take place in parallel to the broader talks if peace is really going to come to Angola. The US has said it would be willing to help get the talks going, if asked, but that it would be preferable for others to serve as mediators.
So far the Marxist government of Angola has rebuffed offers to mediate the civil war. It characterizes UNITA as a tool of South Africa.
The US has provided a total of $30 million to UNITA in covert military aid over the past two years. Senior US officials say that the US intends to continue its aid to UNITA as long as the Soviets continue to aid Angola's government militarily.
African nations seek peace Angola
Territory. The southwestern African nation covers 481,354 square miles (about twice the size of Texas) but has only 8 million people, most of them living in tribal villages and rural areas.
History. Portuguese settlers reached Angola in the 15th century and ruled it as a colony until independence in 1975.
Government. The Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, one of the guerrilla groups who fought the Portuguese, has controlled the country since it seized Luanda, the capital, in early 1976. Since then, the government has been backed by Cuban troops, now reported to be about 50,000 strong.
Rebels. Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels fought the Portuguese until they departed, and the rebels now oppose the government. UNITA, which claims widespread popular support, receives military aid from the United States and South Africa. An estimated 3,000 South African troops are now in Angola.
Refugees. About 1.5 million Angolans have fled areas of fighting and are registered as displaced persons. Namibia
Territory. About 15 percent of the 318,260-square-mile country is covered by desert. Despite its immense size it has only 1.3 million people. More than half live in the north. There are less than 100,000 whites.
History. The Portuguese were the first whites to reach the territory's Atlantic coast in the 15th century. Germany declared the territory a protectorate in 1884. South Africa began to administer it in 1920 under a League of Nations mandate that was terminated by the United Nations in 1966.
Government. South Africa continues to administer the territory. Louis Pienaar, the South-African appointed administrator-general, heads a multiracial transitional government that is to give way to an elected government when the territory gains independence.
Rebels. The South-West Africa People's Organization, SWAPO, has been leading an armed guerrilla struggle against the South Africans since 1966 in a bid to obtain independence for Namibia.
Refugees. About 69,000 Namibians have fled to neighboring Angola. About 7,000 have fled to Botswana and Zambia.