WASHINGTON — A congressional drive to tighten an economic noose around South Africa kicked into high gear Tuesday as a key Senate Republican predicted that a veto-proof "super-majority" in the chamber would quickly pass new trade sanctions against the white-led minority government.
Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Banking subcommittee on international finance, made the remarks as his panel opened the first round of Senate hearings on legislative packages designed to pressure the Pretoria regime on major racial reforms.
The Reagan Administration has opposed sanctions as counterproductive. But rising racial violence and repression in South Africa have generated so much congressional backing for new punitive measures that the question no longer appears to be whether they will be imposed, but how sweeping they will be.
Last month, in a move that surprised even majority Democrats, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill calling for a virtual U.S. trade embargo on South Africa and requiring American companies to sell all assets now held in that country.
Investment Curbs Seen
Although the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to go that far, it clearly seems ready to back, at the least, a package with slightly less impact that nevertheless includes a ban on new U.S. investment and bank loans, as well as curbs on lucrative South African mineral sales in this country and an end to U.S. landing rights for South African aircraft.
Sensing the mounting anti-Pretoria mood in Congress, President Reagan told Republican leaders at a meeting Tuesday that the Administration hopes to disclose new initiatives next week that could head off legislative sanctions but signal growing impatience with the pace of racial progress.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Reagan appears to be considering a wide range of alternatives designed to increase pressure on South Africa, including the appointment of Robert Brown, who is a black, as the new U.S. ambassador.
Lugar said he hopes that Reagan will adopt a strategy that could be supported by Senate Republicans pressing for stronger measures.
Wants Unified Approach
"My own hope is that we will have a unified approach, with the President taking the lead," he said.
The senator, who has scheduled hearings in his committee next week to review U.S. policy toward South Africa, as well as new sanctions, denied a suggestion that Reagan is trying to devise the minimum action necessary to head off legislative adoption of harsher measures. But he acknowledged that Senate sentiment for tough sanctions is strong.
"A large majority of the Senate would like to take some action with regard to South Africa," Lugar said. "They would like to cast a vote that indicates their unhappiness."
Last September, Reagan blocked final congressional approval of a sanctions package against South Africa by reluctantly initiating watered-down sanctions of his own through an executive order. Those included a ban on exports of nuclear technology to South Africa, a ban on the sale of computers and computer equipment to government agencies that enforce apartheid and curbs on most American bank loans to the government.
Also Banned Coin Sale
Reagan later also banned the U.S. sale of gold Krugerrand coins, from which South Africa once derived half its foreign earnings.
The sanctions bill passed by the House last month and the variations being considered by the Senate would go much further than Reagan's executive order.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said Tuesday that he does not expect the full Senate to consider sanctions until September. But, testifying before Heinz's subcommittee Tuesday, key sponsors of sanctions legislation said they will press for a Senate vote in two to three weeks.
That, they said, would allow plenty of time before Congress breaks for the fall election campaigns to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills and for a vote to override a possible presidential veto.