RECENT United States reports of Marxist Angola's new willingness to send all Cuban troops home look like mere wishful thinking. The old catch still holds: South Africa must stop aiding National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels and allow UN-sponsored elections in neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa). Despite its cooperative rhetoric, South Africa shows little inclination to budge on either point. Pretoria's weekend raid on key south Angolan bases of rebels fighting for Namibia's independence, in response to an earlier bombing of a Namibian bank, is another indicator that all parties in this intricate, many-sided war are holding their ground; neither Angola nor South Africa wants to yield first.
The US, which has been brokering the South African-Angolan talks for seven frustrating years, has also been aiding UNITA and makes no offer to stop.
Yet Angola will be far better off when all foreign troops are out and military aid is halted. UNITA and Luanda would then be pressed to compromise, ending their destructive 12-year war.
The US and Angola have a complex, sometimes paradoxical relationship. Economic ties are strong. US oil companies, sometimes protected by Cuban troops against rebel attacks, are a major source of Angolan revenue. The US is Angola's largest single trading partner and has given the government $35 million in refugee food aid during the '80s.
Angola's longtime experiment with socialism has left the economy in desperate shape; the government's bid to adopt more of a free market economy should be encouraged.
Washington should also reconsider its refusal to establish diplomatic ties with Luanda. Any new US administration would likely remedy that oversight; the Reagan team should move first.
The US, which has given Jonas Savimbi's UNITA forces some $30 million in missiles and other aid since 1985, should also end such help.
The rationale for giving has been that Mr. Savimbi fights a Cuban- and Soviet-backed Marxist government. Yet the guerrilla leader, who now advocates socialism but whose ideology changes, is considered by many a stronger Marxist than those now in power in Luanda. Much of black Africa views continued US aid to UNITA as helping a South African proxy, another sign that the US is not serious in its public criticism of South Africa and its apartheid policy.
South Africa's military forces are likely calling the shots both on Pretoria's Namibia policy and the South African effort to help UNITA with troops as well as aid.
Stronger multilateral pressure on Pretoria could help. The combined efforts of Canada, the US, France, Britain, and West Germany, all trading partners of South Africa, almost won important South African concessions on Namibia in the late '70s. Pretoria pulled back, however, when a new US administration came in which effectively shifted the process to a unilateral effort by explicitly linking the Namibia issue with a pullout of Cubans from Angola. The so-called contact group of Western nations should be reassembled to make a second try at resolving the Namibia question.
Also in order: a gradual decoupling of the Namibia issue from Angola's internal situation. Linking the two gave South Africa a new and convenient excuse to continue its military action in Namibia as long as Cuban troops fight in Angola.
An independent Namibia and an Angola free of foreign troops are the goals to shoot for.