WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration said Thursday that the state of emergency declared by South Africa's white minority government is "repressive" and "a serious mistake." But White House and State Department spokesmen reaffirmed the Administration's opposition to new economic sanctions against the Pretoria government.
"We believe such repressive measures are a serious mistake," White House spokesman Larry Speakes and State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said in identical statements. "The South African government's actions and decisions show a lack of appreciation for the fundamental causes of unrest and violence there."
"This resort to further repression dismays all who have looked to create the climate for negotiation and compromise," they added. "These measures will only serve to undermine opportunities for dialogue and retard the restoration of public confidence and order."
Nevertheless, they said, the Administration opposes legislation pending in Congress to impose economic sanctions and rejects the call for sanctions from the so-called Eminent Persons Group, made up of prominent figures representing seven Commonwealth governments. Kalb said the United States will continue its policy of "constructive engagement."
"The free flow of commerce, the free flow of jobs, the free flow of capital . . . has benefited blacks in South Africa more than it has hurt them," Speakes said.
On Capitol Hill, Mark Helmke, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), said the senator's position has long been that "the situation in South Africa is getting out of hand. . . . This is just another step in that out-of-control situation."
Helmke described Lugar as "very frustrated" about rising violence and political intransigence in South Africa. He also said that Lugar felt the imposition of the state of emergency would "tend to spur more (people) on who want to show their outrage."
But, he added, Lugar fears that nothing the United States can do, including the imposition of additional sanctions, may bring about change in South Africa's apartheid policy.
Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), the sponsor of House legislation that would impose new sanctions on South Africa, said the state of emergency "clearly reinforces what we are about legislatively. The conditions are worsening. There's more violence and more oppression, and more people are dying."
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said in a statement: "I deplore the renewal of the declaration of the state of emergency. Now, more than ever, the United States should take meaningful action to distance itself from the repugnant apartheid regime."