Vice President Mondale's meeting with the South African prime minister [WORD ILLEGIBLE] another test of the classical [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] that for every International problem there is an American solution within reach of men of good will.

The premise of emerging administration policy is that "peaceful change" can produce a multiracial political structure on something like the American model. Was not this Jimmy Carter's special performance in the New South? It is to be repeated in South Africa.

Few Americans can fail to hope th initiative succeeds. But it is the reaction of South Africans, black and white, that counts. The American stake pales next to their interest in the dual promise - justice and safety - of American policy. Before shifting into high gear we should ask if "peaceful change" is really in the cards.

The administration asserts that if we simply stand by as we have in the past, white repression will deepen, black revolt will eventually spread, and there will ensue a violent confrontation with ominous implications for this country's domestic peace and international standing. The pressures the administration proposes to apply are meant to head off that fateful denouement.

Just as the previous administration concluded that white domination in southern Africa was there indefinitely to stay, the Carter people have concluded it's not. They see themselves as anticipating the ever-stronger winds of change.

So much for Scylla. The administration does not define with equal clarity Charybdis, which, like most everything else in South Africa, comes in racial varieties.

Regarding blacks, the risk is simply that we won't be able to deliver. White resistance may prove too great for the United States to overcome within the limitations imposed on its policy by it attraction to "stability," by its economic stake and by its residual anticommunism. There is also the racial kinship that might be evoked if whites made a good-faith effort - which so far they have not - but still came into the sort of distress that befell whites in, say, Angola.

Optimists, and those so sympathetic to the purpose fo the new policy tht they are prepared to overlook obstacles in its path, feel that the whites will see it in their interest to bend. Pessimists, who tend to regard themselves as realists, expect fierce white resistance. What does the United States then tell the blacks? (I assume we will stick to the policy, foreshadowed in Rhodesia, of helping make it economically possible for blacks to fight but of not actually joining the battle ourselves - even if it is blacks who are being defeated or killed in numbers).

Regarding whites, the risk is, of course, that they will see our offer not as a life jacket but as a lead overcoat. If they fail to accept it, they face greater isolation and struggle. If they do accept it, or so many of them believe, they face at the least demands for further concessioins and at the most a physical wipeout.

Americans eager for justice point to the relative "moderation" of current black demands: the outlawing of the racial segregation of "petty apartheid," consultation of black political leaders, the right to home ownership, an end to Bantu separate-and-unequal education, and so on.

But once you get rid of the appalling discrimination in public facilities - and this is the uphill fight of South Africa's struggling "liberals" today - you come to the structure of "separate development" on which white minority rule is built. When you start to dismantle it, where do you stop?

Sen. Dick Clark (D-Iowa), a leading advocate of change, was asked the other day if the whites were not being asked to do something "suicidal," as they claim they are. "I think perhaps it is," he said, adding that the disintegration of the white position ultimately would come about anyway, so it was "just a question of when and where and how."

Clark is a sensitive and well-informed man on Africa. It was telling to me that he shares the dire judgment of many South African whites about the future that American diplomacy envisages for them.

Perhaps he and they are wrong. Perhaps there is a way for a ruling white minority to yield power and privilege to an internationally supported black majority in a way that will leave the whites adequately well off, whatever that may mean. The slope may not be so slippery after all. It may have ledges.

Then again, it may not. Maybe the best thing to do is tro say, openly, that South Africa's whites have doomed themselves, that they are not worthy or within reach of anyone's rescue, that larger moral and geopolitical considerations make it necessary for us to help bring justice to the victims of apartheid, regardless of what befalls its practitioners, even if they now, belatedly, incompletely, try to mend their ways. I'm no sure. I'd like to hear the administration's thoughts.