A senior official of the Reagan administration, which is considering the resumption of secret aid to noncommunist guerrillas in Angola, is to meet with a high-level Angolan delegation today and Thursday in an effort to determine whether that country's Marxist government is willing to negotiate with the insurgents.
U.S. officials said yesterday that Chester A. Crocker, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, will investigate the chances for a political settlement of the Angolan civil war when he meets Angolan Interior Minister Manuel Duarte (Kito) Rodrigues in Lusaka, Zambia.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, said Crocker will also explore Angola's willingness to cooperate with U.S. proposals, made in March, for withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola as part of a settlement of regional tensions that would include independence for the South African-controlled territory of Namibia. The State Department, in announcing the meeting yesterday, sought to emphasize that the talks will stress the Angola-Namibia link.
However, the Lusaka meeting has potentially major implications for the internal Angolan conflict. It comes as the administration is deciding whether to resume covert aid to the country's UNITA insurgents, led by Jonas Savimbi, who have been fighting for years against the Marxist government supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The officials, while declining to give specifics of what Crocker will say, hinted that he might tell Rodrigues that the United States is prepared to hold off any new aid to UNITA if the Angolan government shows signs of willingness to negotiate with Savimbi about forming a national reconciliation government with a role for UNITA.
President Reagan told editors and columnists in an interview Saturday that the administration favors giving aid to UNITA, whose guerrillas in southern Angola have come under heavy pressure from the Soviet-supplied and Cuban-aided government forces.
On Sunday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz amplified Reagan's remarks, saying in a television interview that the administration supports UNITA's "freedom fighting" and wants to help its efforts "in a way that's effective." His remarks were understood to mean that the administration prefers secret aid for UNITA rather than a plan under consideration in Congress for $27 million in overt humanitarian aid.
The administration reportedly believes that open U.S. alignment with UNITA would force Washington into closer alliance with white-ruled South Africa, UNITA's principal source of support, and would undermine U.S. efforts to pressure Pretoria to change its apartheid system.
But Shultz added that "if there can be a political solution, a negotiated solution to the problems of Angola . . . linked as it is to the difficulties in southern Africa generally, that's the way to go. And we're trying to do that."
In response to questions about U.S. aims in the Lusaka meeting, State Department spokesman Charles Redman referred several times to Shultz's comment and repeated that the administration "seeks a negotiated settlement to the problems of the region."
In regard to Namibia, the administration, arguing that South Africa will not surrender its hold on the territory so long as an estimated 35,000 Cuban troops remain in neighboring Angola, called in March for talks on establishing a timetable for Cuban withdrawal. Angola, while saying it is willing to remove Cuban troops from the southern part of the country, has not agreed to send the Cubans home.
Redman said yesterday that "we expect Angola, as well as South Africa, to be prepared to respond to our ideas constructively and promptly. Both governments have assured us recently that they want to work with us on that basis . . . . "