WASHINGTON — Businessman Robert J. Brown said Wednesday that he would accept appointment as the nation's first black ambassador to South Africa if President Reagan offers it to him.
However, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an early supporter of Brown, called on him to refuse the post, delivering a blow to the Administration's emerging strategy of sending the 51-year-old North Carolina public relations executive to Pretoria to relieve pressure for tough U.S. economic sanctions against the white-minority government.
"I will serve if the President nominates me," Brown told reporters at the State Department where he participated in a series of meetings on policy toward South Africa.
Administration officials have said that Ambassador Herman W. Nickel is due for replacement after more than four years in a job that the State Department likes to change every three years. These officials say Brown has emerged as the leading candidate for the post.
"I guess I can say I'm under consideration," Brown said.
Brown Widely Praised
When Brown's name first surfaced earlier this week, it was met with universal acclaim. The rumored appointment drew praise across the political spectrum, from veterans of the civil rights movement such as Jackson and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
But after Administration officials were quoted in newspaper accounts as saying that the appointment was intended to defuse congressional demands for tougher action, some of the support began to erode.
Jackson and Walter E. Fauntroy, another black minister-politician and the District of Columbia's non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, urged Brown to reject the job unless the Administration makes major changes in its South Africa policy.
"Though many of us . . . have known Bob Brown across the years, unless these questions are answered in a way that represents a new policy and a new message, we certainly would discourage his accepting this suicide mission," Jackson told reporters as he left the State Department after an hourlong meeting with Chester A. Crocker, assistant secretary of state for Africa.
"It would be against our national interest," Jackson said. "It would be against his personal interest and in conflict with African interest for him to accept this mission as messenger without a message that would, in fact, make a difference."
Opposes 'Symbolic Gesture'
"It is our hope that our good friend Robert Brown will not be used in a symbolic gesture," Fauntroy added.
If the attitude of Jackson and Fauntroy spreads to other black leaders, it could wreck the Administration's hope of sending a strong signal to South Africa while buying a little more time for its "constructive engagement" policy to begin to show results.
Young, former ambassador to the United Nations, commented Monday that Brown is probably "the only person in the nation both I and Jesse Helms could support." Young was in Japan Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz plans to confer today with British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, whose government also opposes stiff economic sanctions against Pretoria.