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Defiant Reagan Vetoes Sanctions : Calls S. Africa Curbs 'Punitive,' Faces Confrontation by Congress

September 27, 1986|SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan on Friday vetoed a bill calling for new sanctions against South Africa--an act of political defiance that is almost certain to be reversed by Congress.

In a sternly worded, four-page message to Congress, the President characterized the sanctions adopted by the lawmakers as "sweeping and punitive." He said he could not abide "declaring economic warfare against the people of South Africa" in order to express U.S. opposition to apartheid.

The veto is likely to precipitate Reagan's biggest confrontation so far with the legislative branch. Seldom, if ever, in his six-year presidency has he been so unyielding when the odds were so clearly stacked against him.

Appeals for Compromise

Recognizing the strength of the opposition on this issue, Reagan appealed to members of both parties to cooperate with him to develop a compromise. "We Americans have succeeded when we have left our partisan differences at the water's edge," he said.

The measure that he vetoed Friday would ban imports of uranium, coal, steel, agricultural products and textiles; prohibit many new investments in South Africa and loans to the Pretoria government; terminate landing rights for South African airliners, and prohibit American firms from exporting crude oil to South Africa.

The bill also outlines a number of steps that the President may take if the South African government fails to begin dismantling apartheid within a year. These include banning the import of diamonds, food and strategic minerals; prohibiting South African deposits in U.S. banks, and ending U.S. military assistance to countries such as Israel that are believed to be circumventing an international embargo on arms sales to Pretoria.

The President is known to be considering a number of independent steps designed to placate his opponents on Capitol Hill, including appointment of a black career diplomat as the new U.S. ambassador to South Africa and an executive order that would impose some weaker sanctions against the Pretoria government.

But none of these measures seems likely to dampen the overwhelming enthusiasm in Congress for sanctions. A majority of Republicans as well as Democrats have pledged to override Reagan's veto of the sanctions bill, which passed the House and Senate by far more than the two-thirds margin necessary to put it into law over the objections of the President.

Lugar Vows Override Fight

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a longtime Reagan loyalist whose recent leadership on the sanctions issue has put him at odds with the White House, vowed to lead the override battle in the Republican-controlled Senate on grounds that any lesser step would give comfort to the white minority government in South Africa.

"If the veto is sustained and regardless of what the United States says or how many executive orders are issued and diplomatic initiatives are taken, the United States would be seen as apologists for apartheid," Lugar said.

Liberal Democrats, who had embraced the sanctions legislation even though it was weaker than they originally wanted in hopes of persuading Reagan to sign it, denounced the veto in even harsher terms.

"The President is sacrificing and damaging America's moral leadership in the world," said Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.). "The President is out of step with the American people on the subject of apartheid."

California Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), author of a sanctions measure that passed the House earlier this year and would have imposed a virtual U.S. economic embargo on South Africa, said the veto proves that Reagan's foreign policy "is without principle, without integrity and without a moral basis, and lacks validity and consistency."

5 Vetoes Were Overridden

Five of Reagan's 49 other vetoes have been overridden by Congress, but none of them was of the magnitude of the South African sanctions bill. Last year, with the help of Lugar, the President successfully defused a congressional move for sanctions by signing a weaker executive order.

The President argued that, while he shares Congress' goal of ending apartheid, the sanctions would victimize black workers and preempt the constitutional prerogative of the President to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit.

He insisted that he needs a free hand to deal with South Africa because of growing Soviet influence in Africa. He noted that the sanctions would have an equally bad impact on neighboring states that depend upon the South African economy.

"Using America's power to deepen the economic crisis in this tortured country is not the way to reconciliation and peace," he declared. "Black South Africans recognize that they would pay with their lives for the deprivation, chaos and violence that would follow an economic collapse."

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