WASHINGTON — Despite renewed threats of a presidential veto, Senate Republicans and Democrats on Thursday appeared to be moving toward a compromise on legislation imposing tough, new economic sanctions on South Africa.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began drafting a bill that Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) predicted would be sent to the Senate floor with broad bipartisan support--probably enough to override a potential veto by President Reagan.
Among other things, the measure likely to emerge from the committee would impose an immediate ban on all new U.S. investments in South Africa, halt U.S. mining imports from South Africa's government-owned companies, withdraw U.S. landing rights for South African Airways and prohibit the Pretoria government or government-owned companies from investing or depositing in U.S. banks.
The committee rejected two harsher alternatives to this measure and also defeated two conservative proposals to weaken the bill--including one authored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) that would have congratulated the South African government for its progress in dismantling its system of apartheid.
At the White House, an official who declined to be identified said that Reagan will veto "on principle" any bill ordering punitive sanctions against South Africa, even if he knows his veto might be overridden by Congress. He also predicted that Lugar's bill would be toughened to the point where Reagan could not accept it.
The President's advisers believe that Lugar's efforts to draft "a veto-proof bill" with broad bipartisan support are doomed because liberal Democrats such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are demanding stiff sanctions that many conservatives could not accept.
A two-thirds majority vote in both chambers is needed to override a presidential veto.
Lugar, whose moderate sanctions bill has not been embraced entirely by the Administration, acknowledged that he expects his measure to be strengthened with amendments in the committee. Specifically, he predicted that the committee would adopt a series of amendments put forth by Republican Sens. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (Md.) and Daniel J. Evans (Wash.).
Unlike Lugar's measure, the Mathias-Evans amendment provides that if the South African government has not acted within 12 months to dismantle apartheid, the Administration must choose two of these sanctions: ban imports of South African steel, ban imports of South African agriculture and textile products, ban South African deposits in U.S. banks or end military aid to third countries that undercut a U.S. arms embargo to South Africa.
On Thursday, the committee defeated by a vote of 9 to 7 a House-passed measure that would have ended virtually all U.S. trade and investment ties with South Africa. And another tougher measure offered by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) also went down, 10 to 7.
In addition, the committee voted 13 to 4 against Helms' weakening amendment and another measure by Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) that would have removed a provision in Lugar's bill that authorizes the President to sell off U.S. gold assets. The provision, which Reagan opposes, is designed to punish South Africa by depressing the market price of gold.
But conservatives succeeded in using parliamentary tactics to force the panel to adjourn before completing its work Thursday. "We have a lot of people around the Senate that are willing to throw sand in the gears," said Lugar, who scheduled another session for today.
Conservative Republicans have promised a filibuster on the sanctions bill; liberal Democrats intend to filibuster against aid to the Nicaraguan contras.
Both issues are scheduled to come before the full Senate next week. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster.
If Congress succeeds in imposing sanctions, a White House official said, South Africa would retaliate with countersanctions against the surrounding black states, which are heavily dependent on South African trade.
"Botha (President Pieter W.) could drop a curtain around South Africa and take countersanctions against the regional states," he said. "Who's going to bail out Zimbabwe when its economy collapses? Is Congress willing to write an appropriations bill to bail out the eight southern African states?"