WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration said Monday that it has made major progress toward the withdrawalof 40,000 Cuban troops from Angola after U.S. officials for the first time met directly with a Cuban delegation to discuss the pullout.
In the past, Angola has held out the possibility that Cuban troops might stay in the country indefinitely, thus maintaining a position from which they might influence future developments throughout southern Africa.
But State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Monday that, when Assistant Secretary of State Chester A. Crocker visited Luanda last week, Angola's Marxist government for the first time agreed to the general principle that all Cuban troops should be withdrawn as part of a regional peace settlement.
Such a settlement also would include independence and black majority rule for Namibia, the former German colony known as South-West Africa, which is now ruled by the white minority government of South Africa in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
"It is an important step. There is no doubt about that," Redman said. "The principle of complete withdrawal of all Cuban troops is something that has been an important missing element up until now."
Cuba has maintained troops in Angola since 1975, when the former Portuguese colony gained its independence. Last summer, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos told a press conference that the Cuban troops would remain in his country not only until Namibia gained independence but until South Africa abolished apartheid.
South African Complaint
On Monday, the State Department sought to attract attention to the prospect that Cuban troops would be withdrawn and played down the significance of Crocker, the Administration's top policy-maker for southern Africa, engaging in direct negotiations with the Cubans. In response to questions, however, Redman acknowledged that until last week, the lengthy series of negotiations had been strictly between the United States and Angola.
In Cape Town, South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha complained that the United States has not consulted his government on the negotiations and so far has not informed him of the results of Crocker's talks.
The Cuban official who took part in the U.S.-Angolan talks was Jorge Risquet, a member of Cuba's Communist Party Politburo.
According to the State Department, Angola asked that several Cuban representatives,including Risquet, be included in their delegation. The United States agreed "on the understanding that (the Cubans') presence . . . would lead to progress in the effort to develop concrete proposals on the withdrawal of all Cuban forces."
U.S. officials said that the next step is to reach agreement on a timetable for the withdrawal.
The State Department spokesman said there is a "gap" in the positions of the United States and Angola on timing for the Cuban departure. "What has to happen now is that the Angolan government needs to take some specific steps to narrow the time frame for the withdrawal," he said, indicating that the United States would like to get the Cubans out quickly.
The United States and South Africa have been providing arms for the right-wing National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), an insurgent movement challenging the Angolan government. The State Department did not say what would happen to U.S. support for UNITA if the Cuban troops were withdrawn.