Angola appears to have swung behind the latest Western-backed initiative to win independence for Namibia in the hope that it could bring peace to the former Portuguese colony for the first time since its independence in 1975.
The Angolan government went out of its way to give a warm reception to the United States, Canadian, British, West German, and French mission that called in Luanda on the second stop of an African tour aimed at persuading South Africa to put mineral-rich Namibia (South-West Africa) on the road to independence.
Luanda's pro-Soviet regime had initially reacted with hostility to the five Western powers' proposals to add riders to UN Security Council Resolution 435 so as to persuade South Africa to accept the world body's mediation in bringing Namibia to independence.
But following the major South African invasion launched against its southern provinces last August, Angola appears to have seized the chance of the latest proposals - mainly aimed at calming South African fears of a Marxist takeover in Namibia after its independence - as a face-saving device to secure implementation of the UN resolution and secure nationhood for its southern neighbor.
One of the Angolan government's main concerns appears to have been to avoid the impression that it was letting SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization) down or forcing the guerrilla movement, which has been fighting for Namibia's independence for the last 15 years, to come to terms with Pretoria.
Angola has emerged as SWAPO's main backer, providing arms, bases, and other material support for the Namibian guerrillas, since Marxists came to power in Luanda six years ago.
Angola insisted that the Western mission should begin its talks in Luanda by meeting SWAPO president Sam Nujoma, who has established his headquarters in the Angolan capital.
SWAPO's initial response to the latest Western plan has been cautious. A statement issued by Mr. Nujoma in Luanda said his movement would only announce its reaction to the proposals after careful study. It left Mr. Nujoma's hands free to adjust his response to whatever reply the South African government (and the parties it supports in Namibia) will give to the Western initiative.
But the Angolan government has shown no such caution in its meeting with the 15-man Western mission, and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos plunged straight into discussions of how and when the transition to Namibian independence could take place, according to Western diplomats in Luanda.
The reasons for Angola's enthusiasm are obvious. For Angola the stakes are huge. An independent Namibia would mean the removal of the South African Army from Angola's southern border. Luanda also hopes it would lead to the collapse of the guerrilla war waged by the opposition movement within Angola known as UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.)
President Santos said last December that South Africa had caused an estimated north of the Namibian border since Angola's independence in 1975.
Thanks to the invasion it launched last August - ostensibly with the aim of destroying SWAPO's bases in southern Angola - South Africa now controls a broad strip running north of the Namibian frontier that its air force has converted into a huge no man's land.
What the Angolan government fears is that South Africa's prolonged action has not only added to the country's economic problems by creating even more refugees , but has also enabled UNITA to build supplies in the interior of Angola so as to escalate the guerrilla war.
UNITA's activities are tying down thousands of troops inside the country, but all Luanda's efforts seem unable to prevent Jonas Savimbi's movement from continuing to sabotage the Benguela railway, putting out of action one of the country's biggest revenue-earners under the Portuguese when it used to carry most of Zaire's and Zambia's copper for export through the Atlantic port of Lobito.
The Reagan administration's success in pushing the repeal of the Clark amendment through the Senate, increasing the likelihood that US aid to UNITA could once more resume, has put added pressure on the Luanda regime to seek a settlement of the Namibian conflict.
If Luanda's argument is true that once Namibia is independent, UNITA will cease to exist because its main supply line will have been cut, Angola will no longer have any excuse to keep thousands of Cuban troops stationed on its soil. And if the Cuban troops go, the US, which already buys most of Angola's oil, will no longer have any excuse for withholding diplomatic recognition of the Luanda regime.