WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration's attempt to name a new U.S. envoy to South Africa suffered another blow Thursday as Ambassador to Denmark Terence A. Todman declared that he would take the job only if the Administration comes up with a policy that "commands the respect" of both blacks and whites in the strife-torn country.
The remarks of Todman, considered a leading candidate for the job, were interpreted by the White House as tantamount to withdrawing his name from consideration.
"That's as good as removed," said one official, calling Todman's press conference "an extraordinary measure to take" for a career diplomat.
President Reagan had hoped to send a black ambassador to Pretoria as a symbolic statement of opposition to the apartheid system of racial segregation. Todman became the most likely nominee after plans to appoint Robert J. Brown, a black North Carolina businessman, fell through.
Unlike Brown, who took himself out of the running because of questions about his past business practices, Todman was regarded as an impeccable candidate because of his long career in public life. He has been ambassador to several countries, including Spain and Chad.
Todman, 60, called the press conference in Copenhagen to deny a published report that he had asked not to be considered for the South African post. He told reporters that he would accept the job "if asked and if there is a policy that commands the respect of both sides" and the neighboring black-ruled states.
"I think once we have a policy that finds credibility with the South Africans, with the people of southern Africa and with the rest of the world, then we can start thinking of who is the very best person to go to South Africa to implement that policy," he said. "I don't think we are at that stage yet."
Todman did not call for additional sanctions, maintaining that "we cannot afford to be totally out of South Africa." However, his criticism of the Administration's policy pointed up the difficulty of finding a new ambassador at a time when that policy is under attack at home and abroad.
'He'd Be Browbeaten'
"Any black--and a lot of whites--would find it difficult to go into that post without some change in policy," said a White House official, speaking on condition that he not be identified. "A black is in a particularly difficult position because so many black leaders here have called for sanctions. He'd be browbeaten all the time while he'd be helpless to do anything."
Reagan is adamantly opposed to additional sanctions against the South African government, arguing that they would only invite retaliation and punish the black population in South Africa and surrounding countries.
Early this summer, the Administration embarked on a policy review aimed at finding ways to invigorate its South Africa policy without abandoning the concept of "constructive engagement," which calls for diplomatic pressure on Pretoria instead of punitive sanctions.
The result was essentially an affirmation of existing policy coupled with the novel idea of sending the first black ambassador to South Africa. The apparent collapse of Todman's nomination has once again torpedoed that goal.
Nickel Leaving Post
While there is no particular time pressure on the Administration to fill the Pretoria job, the current ambassador, Herman W. Nickel, has announced his intention to leave after more than four years in the post--a year longer than the normal three-year rotation. With the spotlight on the Administration's role in South Africa, it does not help matters to have a lame duck ambassador representing Reagan's policies.
Although Reagan is holding firm in his opposition to any change of course on South Africa, frustration is mounting among Administration policy-makers over their inability to win any significant reforms from the Pretoria regime.
"Our policies in South Africa have not worked," a White House official said. However, at the same time, this official said he is convinced that sanctions are not the answer to the impasse.