Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi met with several high-level State Department officials yesterday amid official disclaimers that the United States is contemplating aid for his insurgent forces.
State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said the administration decided to hold the talks so Savimbi could present his views on the situation in southern Africa and be told about U.S. policy in that area.
Romberg insisted, however, that "we have no plans to aid UNITA," Savimbi's Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
The administration is seeking repeal of the 1976 law known as the Clark amendment that prohibits covert or overt U.S. assistance to rebel forces in Angola.
The repeal drive is expected to come to a head on the House floor next week.
The State Department declared that it is seeking the repeal "as a matter of principle" and that Savimbi's visit "is not related to our efforts" to overturn the five-year-old ban.
"Our policy toward UNITA remains unchanged," Romberg said. "The administration has stated that the United States considers UNITA a legitimate political force . . . which must be taken into account."
But he refused to expand on how it must be taken into account or what the formulation is supposed to mean.
Savimbi met separately during the day with Acting Secretary Walter J. Stoessel, the department's No. 3 man, and with Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker and Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Elliott Abrams.
The Reagan administration's reception contrasted with that of the Carter administration, which gave Savimbi a cold shoulder on a 1979 visit sponsored by Freedom House, a private organization that invited him again this year.
The prohibition on aid for Angolan rebel forces grew out of CIA involvement that began in 1975 when the Ford administration decided to provide covert political and military support for UNITA and another faction then active.
The secret military support grew to $32 million before objections sparked by then-senator Dick Clark (D-Iowa) led to the congressional ban.