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S. Africa to US: 'Let's start afresh'

Powerful forces in the South African government seem to be continuing to expect a completely overhauled, closer relationship with the United States and the Reagan administration.

South Africa responded with delight to the election of Ronald Reagan as President, perceiving him as far more sympathetic to the country and its strongly anticommunist stand than was President Carter.

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In its desire to put its previously strained relations on a better footing, South Africa is pushing to get rid of as many leftovers as possible from the previous Carter administration -- including the present US ambassador to South Africa, William B. Edmondson.

"There is no point in Mr. Edmondson filling his post in South Africa much longer," concluded an editorial this week in Die Burger, a government-supporting , Afrikaans newspaper.

Die Burger, generally regarded as a mouthpiece for South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha, referred rather bitterly to the chilly relations between South Africa and the United States during the Carter administration. It said that Edmondson was appointed at a time when the Carter administration regarded it as "high fashion to get at South Africa at every possible, or even impossible, opportunity."

It added that various incidents (meaning some outspoken statements by Mr. Edmondson about the constitutional treatment of blacks, for one) had reduced the ambassador's ability to maintain friendly relations with South Africa "to freezing point."

Some of the country's Afrikaans government-supporting newspapers are now openly gloating about leaked information that Edmondson -- a "Carter man" -- was excluded from important and recently concluded talks on Namibia (South- West Africa) between US Deputy Secretary of State William Clark and high South African government and Namibian representatives.

According to Die Burger, this strengthened the impression that even "highly placed Americans" did not estimate that Edmondson's presence in South Africa was conducive to "normalizing relations between the two countries, as both are striving to do."

The South African government has not even been put out by statements by Chester Crocker, United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, that the United States "will not permit its energies, time, and credebility to be frittered away on a drawn-out and fruitless diplomatic charade in Southern Africa" involving Namibia.

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A South African Foreign Affairs Department spokesman merely indicated the government regarded Mr. Crocker's statement as "realistic and positive," adding: "We do not see the statement as implying anything is expected from South Africa's side before the United States administration finally decides by the end of June whether to continue its attempts at a settlement."

He did not make much of Mr. Crocker's announcement that the US is negotiating closer military ties with South Africa, including the exchange of military attaches and training the Coast Guard. He suggested this could amount to little more than returning to the position two years ago, before the South African government accused the US of using a camera mounted in the US Embassy's aircraft here to photograph military installations.

Clearly South Africa snapped up its opportunity during last week's visit here by Mr. Clark not only to talk about the future of Namibia but also, and perhaps especially, to emphasize South Africa's own importance to the West, specifically to the United States.

This is based on the country's mineral wealth -- its supplies for example of platinum, manganese, vanadium, chrome, and cobalt -- and its strategic position at the tip of the African continent.

The South African government is also vehemently anticommunist.

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