The United States recalled its ambassador to South Africa yesterday to consult on countermeasures against that nation's heavy crackdown on blacks.
At the same time, the United States and other Western allies in the United Nations Security Council discussed how to respond to intensified demands from black Afrians, and black Americans, to impose severe economic sanctions on South Arica.
In the past, the United States has joined in vetoing such sanctions. Now the demands are higher, but so is the potential for a diplomatic backfire, in the judgment of administration strategists. South Afria holds important leverage in allied efforts to bring about independence and an end ot white minority rule in Nambia (South-west Afria), which South Afria governs, and in Rhodesia.
The State Departaent announced that Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, after conferring with President Carter, asked Ambassador William Bowdler to return to Washington "for consultations on recent events in South Africa."
Bowdler is due here early next week and is expected to return to South Africa "a few days later," the department said.
South Africa's banning of nearly a score of mostly black organizations, the closing of the leading black newspaper and the detention of at least 50 persons evoked official American condemnation Wednesday and a warning that these actions could have "implications" for U.S. South African relations. Prime Minister John Vorster, however, dismissed the American protest as "totally irrelevent."
State Department spokesman Hoding Carter III declined comment yesterday on Vorster's remarks and reiterated U.S. concern about the South African crackdown. But the spokesman said it is premature to say what action the United States contemplates next, pending discussions with Bowdler.
The recall of the ambassador was originally urged by members of the Congressional Black Caucus as an initial symbol of American disapproval of the South African actions. Yesterday the Black Caucus called for an escalating sequence of 11 other American actions. They include downgrading the U.S. mission in South Africa, denying tax credits and loan guarantees to U.S. firms doing business in that nation, ending all cooperation in nuclear research, supporting U.N. actions against South Africa and asking Congress for "immediate action" on economic sanctions.
"It's a desperate situations in South Africa," said Caucus chairman Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), "and we in the Caucus are becoming desperate because of the lack of definitive action by our government."
Mitchell rejected the suggestion that South Africa's role in the Rhodesian and Namibian diplomacy justifies tempering U.S. actions against South Africa. Mitchell charged that this is "part of the game-playing that is going on in this administration to justify support of this racist regime."
President Carter told reporters in Detroit as he began a trip through five states, that he discussed South Africa with black congressmen Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), who traveled with him aboard Air Force One.
Referring to the caucus, Carter said, "I will be meeting with them probably the first of next week."
At a Washington news conference, Mitchell implied that American business interests are influencing U.S. policy. "The question," he said, "is does this nation, the citadel of liberty, the cradle of democracy, have the guts to stand up to these corporate interests."
Mitchell said, "We're demanding definitive action . . . As far as the caucus is concerned, the battle lines have been drawn."
Administration officials said they are seeking a course of action that will enable the United States to have some influence on developments inside South Africa and also preseve diplomatic efforts to end minority white rule in adjoining Namibia and Rhodesia.
Spokesman Carter said the attitude that South Africa has displayed" in that diplomacy has been "constructive." He said, "We would hope we would not lose South Africa's support not only in the rest of Southern Africa, but in South Africa itself," to move toward "peaceful change."
At the United Nations it is expected that black African demands for Security Council consideration of South Africa's latest actions will generate a council session on the issue beginning Monday.
The United States, Great Britain, France, Canada and West Germabny have been working together closely on attempted settlements of the racial conflicts in southern Africa. All five nations are cooperating on the Namibian dispute, while the United States and Britain are leading the diplomacy on Rhodesia, which now concentrates on attempts to produce a cease-fire in the guerrilla war in that former British colony.
American investments in South Africa are worthjabout $1.5 billion. This could provide some pressure points for the United States. But if South Africa in turn adopts a complete siege mentality, U.S. strategists believe they will be deprived of any leverage on its actions.
Contributing to this report was Washington Post staff writer Harold J. Logan.