WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration wound up unusually secretive high-level meetings with South African officials Friday, saying it expected changes in the country's racial policies soon.
"To their credit, the South Africans are looking at and considering the views of the U.S. government and the views of other western governments," said State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb. "We expect the process to go on, and we would be looking for results in the near future."
Operating under a policy known as "constructive engagement," the Administration has been trying for more than four years to persuade the Pretoria government to ease its policy of racial separation, known as apartheid.
One objective, a senior U.S. official said, was to encourage South Africa to broaden its political dialogue to include "all major black leaders" and to ease racial tensions.
Kalb said the Administration had been assured that a policy review is under way. "I cannot speculate about whatever it is that they will do," he said. But, suggesting major changes might be in prospect, Kalb said "this is a time of considerable activity" within the South African government.
The talks were held over two days in Vienna against a backdrop of unusual secrecy. Kalb did not disclose any specific results, but he suggested that the U.S. delegation had taken a tough stand.
"The talks provided an opportunity for the U.S. to set forth candid views of the situation in South Africa and the neighboring countries," the spokesman said.
However, the United States is not demanding an end to the state of emergency, being careful not to condemn South Africa in the discussions for the spreading violence in the country. Instead, it is urging the Pretoria government to address the "root causes" of the unrest, said the senior official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Another objective, the official said last week, is to try to revive negotiations for the independence of Namibia, the mostly black territory held by South Africa. Such talks would be tied to the removal of Cuban troops from Angola.
The meetings, which concluded Friday in Vienna, were requested by South Africa and not publicly announced by either government. They were held in consultation with Britain and several West European countries, all of which have withdrawn their ambassadors from Pretoria to protest South Africa's policy of racial separation.
Questioned about the meetings Friday, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that "this is a time of considerable activity . . . in the South African government in terms of a policy review. To its credit, the South Africans are taking into consideration the views of the United States government and of other countries."
However, he said this process is likely to continue for a matter of "days and perhaps weeks."
Speakes said specific policy and legal changes by the South Africans have been discussed in Vienna. He did not elaborate on what these were, other than to say that "we are encouraged."
He said that National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane had returned to Washington to brief President Reagan on the talks, but that other U.S. officials remained in Vienna for Friday's meeting.
McFarlane and Chester Crocker, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, headed the U.S. delegation. Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha was in charge of the South Africans. He reportedly will visit several West European capitals afterward to report on the results.
An air of mystery surrounded the sessions. The U.S. official said South Africa had informed the United States that it had "some interesting things" to say.
There have been unverified reports that South Africa may reverse its policy of establishing nominally independent "homelands" for blacks.
The U.S. call for a broader dialogue with black leaders follows refusal by South African President Pieter W. Botha to meet with Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, who has offered himself as a mediator between the white authorities and black radicals.
Homeland leaders with whom Botha has met are generally rejected by more militant blacks as stooges of white authority.
"We agreed to the meeting because of the importance of our having direct contact with the South African government at this tense time," Kalb said last week in acknowledging the talks.
"The meeting afforded us an opportunity to discuss the serious situation in South Africa and in the region, a situation about which the Administration has strong feelings."
The meeting took place as rioters and police battled in black townships around Durban in the bloodiest fighting in five months.
Speakes said it was Reagan's decision to send McFarlane rather than Secretary of State George P. Shultz to Vienna.