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Reagan May Ease Sanctions Stand : Seeks to Defuse Opposition to Expected Veto

September 17, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT and SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Reagan appears willing to accept some additional sanctions against South Africa if it will defuse opposition on Capitol Hill to his expected veto of a tougher bill currently on his desk, Administration and congressional sources said Tuesday.

White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and national security adviser John M. Poindexter conferred with Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) to assess congressional sentiment and craft a possible compromise modeled after action taken Tuesday by the European Communities.

No Decision Made

After the meeting, Regan told reporters that the President has not yet decided how to proceed. He said it is still possible that Reagan could sign the sanctions bill passed by the House and Senate, but he emphasized that there are a number of provisions the President opposes. "I'm not certain what my recommendation will be," Regan said.

The most likely option to emerge from the meeting is an executive order in which the President could incorporate the least punitive aspects of the congressional legislation while still vetoing the overall bill, the sources said. Such a course is appealing to the White House because it might attract enough support to make it impossible for Congress to get the necessary two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

But a senior White House official, who asked not to be named, said he doubts that any executive order Reagan would sign would be sufficient to lure the number of votes needed to offset a veto. "We're not there yet," he said.

Reagan has until the end of next week either to sign or veto the legislation.

Senate Republican leaders are divided over what strategy Reagan should follow. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will advise Reagan to bite the bullet and sign the bill rather than cobble together a watered-down executive order to take its place.

Lugar warned that even if the executive order averted a veto, Reagan would still face retaliation from congressional Democrats who have threatened to attach South African sanctions to an omnibus spending measure needed to fund the federal government for fiscal 1987. "I don't think it is a winning situation (for Reagan) even if the veto is sustained," he said.

But Majority Leader Dole indicated that he might support an executive order containing modest sanctions similar to those adopted by the European Communities. White House officials said they still are studying the European action and that Reagan often has said he would feel more comfortable taking steps that were endorsed by the allies, particularly Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who has been an even harsher critic of sanctions than Reagan.

European Communities foreign ministers voted Tuesday to cut off imports of South African iron, steel and gold coins and to ban new investment. But they exempted the much more lucrative coal market from sanctions.

Bans in Congress' Bill

The sanctions bill approved by Congress would impose a virtual ban on new investment in and loans to South Africa as well as halt exports of crude oil and petroleum products. It also would block imports of South African uranium, coal, textiles, steel, arms and agricultural products and would deny landing rights to South African aircraft.

The more limited sanctions that were imposed by Reagan in September, 1985, and were recently extended for another year restrict loans and the sales of computer and nuclear technology to South Africa and the sale of South African Krugerrands in the United States.

Lugar called the action by the 12 European nations "a hodgepodge" and said it is not a good pattern for action by Reagan.

"If the President is going to base his executive order on this difficult conclusion of the EC, his leadership position is weakened and he will be defying the Congress besides," Lugar said. "I don't think it adds up to a very sound situation."

May Name Black Envoy

Meanwhile, the White House appeared close to officially appointing a black as U.S. ambassador to Pretoria. Edward J. Perkins, a career diplomat who is currently the ambassador to Liberia, is the Administration's choice to fill the difficult post.

Dole termed the expected nomination of Perkins "a small step," but said he does not anticipate that the symbolism of naming a black ambassador to the white-ruled nation would make "any great difference" in Administration policy.

Reagan has opposed stronger sanctions on the grounds that they would lead to the loss of jobs for South African blacks and would diminish U.S. influence with the South African government.

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