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S. African Curbs Loom in Senate, Reagan Told : GOP Leaders Urge President to Take Strong New Initiative

July 22, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate will pass a measure later this week aimed at forcing stiff economic sanctions against South Africa unless President Reagan's speech today contains "some new credible initiative" to fight apartheid, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) warned Reagan at a White House meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, the symbolic centerpiece of Reagan's revamped policy toward South Africa collapsed, as North Carolina businessman Robert J. Brown announced that he did not wish to be considered for appointment as the first black ambassador to the white-ruled country.

In a press conference in his home state, Brown said he wants to spare himself and his family further "painful" publicity as questions surfaced about his past business dealings.

Asked whether he is committed to naming a black envoy, Reagan told reporters: "The man I name will be the best one available. I'm not going to look at what color he is."

The announcement of Brown's appointment was supposed to have been the highlight of Reagan's speech, and officials said that an alternative candidate would not be available in time to be announced today.

As a result, the White House was left scrambling for ways to demonstrate new toughness toward the Pretoria government without embracing economic sanctions and abandoning the controversial U.S. policy of "constructive engagement"--which seeks to change South Africa's racial policies through diplomatic rather than confrontational means.

In a sobering meeting at the White House, Reagan was told by three leading Republican senators that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Reagan to scrap the "constructive engagement" policy and to consider a series of economic sanctions taken in concert with Britain and the rest of the European Communities.

In addition, Lugar proposed some immediate punitive steps, such as withdrawing U.S. landing rights for South African Airways and restricting travel visas for South Africans. Such modest sanctions, which appeared in an early draft of Reagan's speech, are still being considered.

Personal Approach Urged

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) suggested that Reagan take a strong rhetorical stand on certain key points in the battle against South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation, and to personally push those points with President Pieter W. Botha.

Kassebaum said that if Reagan forcefully called for the release of jailed black leader Nelson Mandela and for the recognition of the outlawed African National Congress as a legitimate political party, his demands "could carry great weight with Botha."

Reagan is expected to say that he favors increased communication with black leaders, including members of the ANC, but it is unclear how far he will go on the national stage in promoting this change in policy. While Administration officials have called for the release of Mandela, Reagan never has taken it on as a public cause.

Dole said the President responded "very positively" to his assessment that the Administration must be "more aggressive" in persuading the South African government to move away from apartheid or risk being preempted by a Congress anxious to impose widespread sanctions.

'Some Positive Thing'

"We need some positive thing to forestall action," Dole said, adding that he would be disappointed if Reagan's speech is primarily a reiteration of present policy. "It's got to have something in it."

Reagan has consistently opposed economic sanctions against South Africa on the grounds that they would hurt the country's blacks. He is expected to argue for more U.S. investment in South Africa when he addresses members of the World Affairs Council-Foreign Policy Assn. at 11 a.m. PDT today in the White House East Room.

But, with pressure for a tougher policy reaching fever pitch on Capitol Hill, Reagan indicated "a willingness" to renew and possibly expand an executive order banning certain computer sales to the South African government, Kassebaum said. The order expires Sept. 9.

Even if Reagan adopts every modest measure under discussion, it is unlikely that he will be able to stop the stampede in Congress for more punitive action. "It's an emotional issue," a White House official said, "and one that does have that runaway potential."

Campaign Issue Seen

The explosive situation is further fueled by the coming Senate elections and an acute awareness on the part of senators facing reelection that South Africa could be a potent campaign issue. Dole said he told Reagan that some congressional pressure "may be politically inspired" but that the depth of feeling in the Senate should not be underestimated simply because it is a campaign year.

"There is great bipartisan, non-political concern," Dole said.

Before Dole left for the meeting with Reagan, he was challenged by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to lay out an alternative to sanctions if the Administration is to successfully negotiate with South Africa. "If sanctions are unacceptable, what course is left to us?" Byrd asked Dole on the Senate floor.

"The Administration is trying to fight something with nothing, trying to fight apartheid with no policy. One cannot fight something with nothing," Byrd declared, charging that constructive engagement is "dead as a policy."

Botha rebuffs Tutu's call to end emergency. Page 8.

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