The American ambassador to South Africa, William W. Edmundson, told the government here last week that he did not know about the aerial photographing of this country from a U.S. Embassy plane, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department said today.
The spokesman, who preferred not to be named, said that the government does not intend to take any further action against American officials in South Africa because of the covert photographing.
"As far as South Africa is concerned it has taken steps it considered necessary in response to the espionage carried out by certain officials of the U.S. Embassy and subject to further developments, it does not intend any further action," the spokesman said. By further development, he said, he meant any new information that would implicate any other American official in the incident.
His comments appear to signal a desire to tone down the considerable publicity that characterized South Africa's initial handling of the affair.
Only last week Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha went on television to denounce the spying shortly after his foreign minister had called in Edmundson to tell him the camera had been discovered and that three American military attaches would be expelled.
[A State Department spokesman said he did not know anything about conversations between Ambassador Edmundson and South Africa's Foreign Affairs Department. He reiterated strongly that the United States has not acknowledged that any American officials were spying.]
The espionage incident has distracted attention, at least for the time being, from the major political scandal that had been threatening the unity of the ruling National Party and the tenure of Botha's government.
Public opinion has supported the expulsion of the Americans.
Washington's refusal to explain why it feels it has no reason to apologize for the incident, as demanded by the South African government, has heightened public suspicion about U.S. activity here and bolstered popular support for pretoria's actions.
The American government ordered the expulsion of two South African military attaches in retaliation and has refused to offer any apologies to the South Africans.
The American spokesman said the South Africans long knew that the plane carried a camera.