President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia said yesterday that he "very strongly" supports the presence of Cuban military forces in Angola under present circumstances, and called on the United States to create conditions to permit them to be sent home.
Fresh from discussions with President Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and other top U.S. officials, the African leader described the presence of the Cubans as necessary to counter the "illegal" occupation by South African forces of parts of Angola and of neighboring Namibia, the site of international maneuvering for several years.
In a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, Kaunda urged the United States to take the lead in obtaining the withdrawal of the South African forces from Angola and Namibia. If this is done, he said, "all the front-line countries, much more so Angola, would like the Cubans to go back home."
"It is Washington that must move," said the Zambian president. "If Washington does not move in the right direction, we all suffer."
What Kaunda fears in the absence of a diplomatic breakthrough, he said, is intensified East-West confrontation in the region, including more reliance by Namibian guerrilla forces on guns and ideology from the Soviet bloc.
Kaunda has been the leader of his country since its independence two decades ago and is an influential figure in the "front line" of black southern African states. Behind-the-scenes activity by Kaunda could make a major difference in the unresolved political tangle over the Namibia question, according to administration officials.
The Zambian president has been close to Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, whom he described as "a Marxist-Leninist" who nevertheless has the development of his country at heart.
He described dos Santos' motivation for a decision to send home the Cubans, once security from South Africa is assured, as largely economic. "Angola is paying through the nose to keep Cuban troops there. Angola needs the money for development," Kaunda said.
State Department officials have had recent meetings with Angolan officials seeking a commitment for Cuban troop withdrawal in parallel with South African withdrawal from Namibia. So far these talks have been inconclusive, but direct discussions between South Africa and Angola have raised new hope.
Kaunda said he is afraid that an "egg-or-chicken impasse" has developed, referring to a situation in which Angola is demanding departure of the South Africans first, and South Africa, with U.S. support, is demanding departure of the Cubans first.
"This impasse must be broken," Kaunda said. He added that it would help if the United States would extend diplomatic recognition to Angola so "they will discuss with you more freely and openly."
Kaunda indicated a willingness to mediate between the Angolan government and the insurgent forces of Jonas Savimbi, who has had strong ties to Zambia. But Kaunda said he would mediate only if asked by the parties involved.
The Reagan administration, meanwhile, announced a gesture to Kaunda. Starting today, certain types of Zambian copper, the country's major export, will be given duty-free status here.