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UN plan for Namibia gets back on track as US drops solo effort

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On again. Off again. On again. Prospects for the independence of Namibia, which in recent months had vanished from the horizon, are appearing again in a somewhat clouded sky.

After having distanced itself from the UN plan for the independence of Namibia and from its partners in the "contact group" (Canada, France, Great Britain, and West Germany), the United States has moved back on track. Reliable diplomatic sources say it has convinced itself that:

* It will not succeed in simply cajoling South Africa into giving up Namibia.

* An internationally acceptable solution to the problem is in the strategic interest of South Africa and of the West.

Since the beginning of the year the Reagan administration has engaged in bilateral dialogue with South Africa, trying to convince it of its friendly intentions and to established a trusting partnership. This "all carrot and no stick" approach, however, failed to soften South Africa's stance on Namibia.

Last year, South Africa had accepted Security Council Resolution 435 as the basis of a settlement regarding Namibia, in principle. After Reagan's election, South Africa reneged on its commitment and at the Geneva conference on Namibia last January slammed the door on the UN.

"It felt that it now had a friend in the White House and that it would no longer be pushed around," one UN official says.

However, after many months of futile attempts at cajoling South Africa, a certain irritation began to be felt by high American officials who were dealing with the problem.

"They finally saw the light and came to the conclusion that pressing South Africa toward a solution through the contact group was still their best bet," says a Western diplomat.

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