A headline yesterday stated incorrectly that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had voted to ""help Angolan anti-Marxists.'' The committee voted the repeal a congressional ban on the president's providing covert or overt aid to Angolan rebels, but the committee also adopted language stating that its action should not be considered an endorsement of U.S. aid to any rebel forces in Angola and directing the president to consult with Congress if he decided to provide such aid.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday sought to give President Reagan a freer hand in conducting Africa policy, voting 10 to 2 to repeal the congressional ban on aid to rebels fighting the Marxist government in Angola.
The committee's action on the so-called Clark amendment, whose repeal is a high-priority goal of the administration, came a day after the House Foreign Affairs Committee took the opposite tack and voted 19 to 5 to retain the ban.
If the differing votes of the two committees are upheld by the full House and Senate, the question of whether to keep or drop the Clark amendment will have to be settled in conference. Last year, the same situation arose and the House prevailed keeping the ban.
At issue is legislation named for former Democratic senator Dick Clark of Iowa and originally adopted by Congress in 1976. The administration has put the Clark amendment first on the list of what it regards as laws adopted in the post-Vietnam war period that place undue restrictions on the president's room for maneuver in foreign policy.
Yesterday's vote came after divided Republican and Democratic members literally worked out a deal in the course of public debate. The compromise, written by the committee chairman, Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), and Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), repeals the amendment, but adds language intended to act as a brake on administration actions and reassure black African nations that the United States is not planning any activities hostile to the Angola government.
Specifically, this language states that nothing in the legislation should be considered an endorsement of covert or overt actions against the Angola regime, and it directs the president, if he does decide to aid Angolan rebels, to report fully to Congress on the nature of the assistance and why it is in the U.S. national interest.
It also says the president, in determmining whether to aid anti-government forces, should take into account U.S. interests in Angola and the rest of Africa as well as the potential impact on efforts to achieve independece for Angola's neighbor, Namibia, from South Africa.
Whether repealing the amendment would help or hinder progress toward a Namibia solution has been a central element in the debate. Opponents of repeal have argued that it would send the wrong signal to black African countries and make them wary of co-operating with western efforts to resolve the guerrilla warfare against South African forces in Namibia.
However, the administration has contended that one of the chief aims of its southern Africa policy is to remove the approximately 20,000 Cuban troops helping to fight the Angola rebels. Elimination of the Clark amendment, the administration says, would give it greater flexibility in dealing with Angola to bring about an acceptable Namibia independence plan and, in the resulting improved climate, to press for removal of the Cubans.
In other action on Capitol Hill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee refused, 22 to 10, to order reimposition of the Soviet grain embargo lifted by the president last month. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y) made the losing proposal on grounds that Reagan's decision made America look weak.