A VIGOROUS argument has developed over whether Congress should grant the administration's request to repeal the anti-CIA Clark Amendment, which bars aid to rebels in Angola. But since the administration insists it has no plans for aid, the argument comes down to a small question: how troublesome would be the symbolism of repeal? There is something much more interesting and timely to ask about Angola: what is the role of Jonas Savimbi, leader of the UNITA faction that is challenging the MPLA government in Luanda? He's been in Washington doing the rounds.

Mr. Savimbi has a good bit going for him these days. He is a political and military leader of proven skill, durability and anti-communist ideology, with a constituency, a territorial base and an army in southern Angola. He also is the favorite of this administration, which, revoking its predecessor's ban, has pronounced him "significant and legitimate." Mr. Savimbi says he looks forward to negotiating a reconciliation with a like- minded, though currently minority, faction in the Luanda government--a government the United States does not recognize. But the first item on their common agenda, he says, must be the departure of the 20,000 Cuban soldiers in Angola. Laboring as he does under a certain taint of collaboration with South Africa, he seems eager to burnish his nationalist credentials by raising the anti-Cuba flag high.

The Cubans are there in the first instance to protect Luanda from South Africa, whose troops regularly chase Namibia's SWAPO guerrillas back into their Angolan sanctuaries. Luanda will not conceivably dismiss them until Namibia gets an authentic independence, if then. That gives Mr. Savimbi a strong interest in a Namibia settlement. To police a settlement, he says, he would allow the stationing of United Nations units along the important sector of the Angolan border with Namibia that he controls. He realizes that this would compel the United Nations, which long ago (and foolishly) embraced the MPLA faction as Angola's "sole" legitimate political force, to deal with him as well. He relishes it.

Any why not? There he is, a presence and a power on the border and on the political map of Angola. If Namibia is to become independent and Angola's civil war is to be ended, he has a part to play.