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Reagan May Ease Sanctions Stand : Europe Adopts Limited Curbs on South Africa

September 17, 1986|From Times Wire Services

BRUSSELS — The 12 nations of the European Communities agreed Tuesday to impose a watered-down package of economic sanctions against South Africa.

As part of a continuing campaign to pressure South Africa to end apartheid, the Common Market nations said they will halt imports of South African iron, steel and gold coins and ban new investment in the country.

But a proposed embargo on coal imports, which would have had greater effect on the South African economy, was not adopted.

"We've reached a conclusion that sends a clear signal of what we want to see happen in South Africa," said Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign secretary and chairman of the group's conference of foreign ministers.

In reaction to the Europeans' decision, South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha said his government will study ways of defending the South African economy. He said it will not impose punitive measures in retaliation.

Effective Sept. 27

The ban on iron and steel imports takes effect Sept. 27, Howe said. Further talks at a lower political level are needed to decide how to implement the ban on commercial investment and purchase of gold coins, he said.

At the insistence of West Germany, the 12 European nations dropped consideration of an import ban on South African coal, a move that would have had a much greater economic and social impact on South Africa.

The West Germans argued, with support only from Portugal, that cutting off coal purchases would inflict severe hardships on the tens of thousands of blacks--many of them from South Africa's neighboring countries--who work in South African mines.

Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen told reporters that he will demand that a ban on coal imports be reconsidered at the next foreign ministers meeting set for October. Denmark, acting on its own, already has cut off all trade with South Africa.

Ellemann-Jensen said that without the inclusion of coal, the sanctions package was "amputated" and of limited value as a pressure tactic.

Common Market imports of coal totaled $1.3 billion last year, compared with iron, steel and gold coin purchases valued at a combined $600 million. Total Common Market imports from South Africa amounted to $9.2 billion.

Sees Credibility Hurt

"This has taken something away from the credibility of the (European) Community," Ellemann-Jensen said. He added, however, that he believes a coal import ban will be adopted later and said Tuesday's action means "things are moving in the right direction; the pressure is growing."

Other officials were more skeptical. Theodore Pangalos, the chief Greek delegate, told reporters the sanctions "concern a ridiculously small amount of South African exports. . . . It won't have any effect."

One year ago, the European Communities imposed a series of mild, mostly symbolic measures against Pretoria, including the banning of sales of military equipment and the freezing of scientific and cultural relations. The Europeans pledged to take harsher measures if South Africa failed to make substantial progress in dismantling apartheid.

Apartheid, by law and custom, establishes a racially segregated society in which South Africa's 25 million blacks have no vote in national affairs. The 5 million whites control the economy and maintain separate districts, schools and health services.

Had Little Choice

Howe, whose own government has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of economic sanctions, said the Europeans were left with little choice but to act.

"The South Africans are not yet ready to take the steps that are necessary to start the genuine dialogue with the black community that is necessary," he said.

In a formal declaration on relations with South Africa, the European Communities expressed "grave concern" at the civil strife there and called on Pretoria to end the state of emergency that was imposed last June.

The trading bloc also renewed its call for the unconditional release of black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and urged the opening of political negotiations with the black majority.

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