SANTA BARBARA — The White House expressed interest Monday in an invitation to meet with the leaders of six black-ruled African nations to discuss ways to ease the impact that economic sanctions on South Africa would have on its neighbors.
"We all agree that . . . the nations of southern Africa as well as the major European countries and the United States need to be involved in discussions with South Africa in order to bring about a change" in South Africa's practice of apartheid, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.
Speakes endorsed the concept of a regional summit of black nations to address the "very strong ripple effect" of sanctions on the countries that surround white-ruled South Africa, but he stopped short of promising that President Reagan or any other U.S. official would attend such a meeting.
Invitation Not Received
"Our criteria is if it would help, we would do it," he said, explaining that the United States had not yet received a formal invitation and would reserve judgment until it knew more about the specifics of the proposed summit.
Zambian President Kenneth D. Kaunda said Sunday that he would ask President Reagan to meet with the leaders of the six so-called "front-line states" with borders on or near South Africa, to discuss a new "humane U.S. policy" toward the region, which he said is being "strangled by the tentacles of apartheid."
The Administration is already prepared to boost economic aid to the area. M. Peter McPherson, head of the Agency for International Development, returned Sunday from a fact-finding tour of several black-ruled nations to assess specific economic needs. He will brief Secretary of State George P. Shultz later this week.
The United States currently provides $152 million in aid to the six nations. Speakes said the money pays for technical projects such as irrigation as well as food imports and medical assistance.
In arguing against further economic sanctions against South Africa, President Reagan often cites the plight of the front-line states, which are dependent on commerce with South Africa. Only two of those states, Zimbabwe and Zambia, have adopted sanctions against the Pretoria government.
The others--Angola, Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique--fear retaliation from South Africa and the effect it would have on their own economies and have not adopted sanctions.
The decision to invite Reagan was made at a meeting of the six leaders last week in Luanda, Angola. If Reagan declines to travel to southern Africa, the leaders indicated they would be receptive to an invitation to visit Washington.
"We share the concerns of the front-line state leaders about the dangerous conditions prevailing in the region," Speakes said, declaring that Administration officials are "prepared to do our part" in promoting negotiated settlements among those directly affected by apartheid.
Concern for Progress
A White House official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said the Administration's reluctance to immediately commit itself to attending such a summit meeting stemmed from a concern that progress might be better attained in smaller, one-on-one meetings with individual leaders rather than a highly publicized session involving all six nations.
Kaunda said the front-line states are facing severe economic problems as a result of drought, debt and a dependence on transportation routes that can easily be disrupted by South Africa.
In his 10-day visit to the region, AID administrator McPherson concentrated on ways to provide alternative transportation routes for the front-line states that would not be as dependent as they now are on South African cooperation.
When he returns to Washington after Labor Day, Reagan is expected to renew an executive order banning the sale of computers to the South African government and the sale of new Kruggerands in the United States. But aides have said he will not broaden that ban lest he hurt those he wants to help--blacks in South Africa and the surrounding black-ruled states.