Britain's new Conservative government today reaffirmed its commitment to recognize the biracial government of Rhodesia if British observers report that the recent election there was sufficiently free and fair.
In his first press conference as foreign secretary, Lord peter Carrington quoted the commitment in the Conservative Party election manifesto, said it "obviously stands" and indicated he would be moving soon to carry it out.
The representatives sent by the Conservatives to observe last month's Rhodesian election will not finish their report and deliver it to Carrington or Prime Mimister Margaret Thatcher until later this week. But the report is widely expected to be generally favorable, and Carrington seemed to be acting on that assumption today.
While making it clear that a favorable report on the Rhodesian election would move Britain away from previous Anglo-American policy and toward ending British economic sanctions against Rhodesia, Carrington's cautious statements today left time and room for maneuvering to try to avoid serious conflict with the United States or black Africa.
Carrington said he expects "in the near future" to begin consultations with the United States, Britain's European allies, the Commonwealth nations in America, Africa and Asia, and political leaders in Rhodesia on steps to be taken after the observers have reported. He will meet U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance next week to discuss Rhodesia and other joint policy concerns.
Anglo-america policy on Rhodesia while the Labor Party was in power here had been built on an insistence on internationally supervised elections there with the participation of the Patriotic Front rebels who boycotted the "internal settlement" election that produced a black-majority government headed by Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
But Thatcher had said repeatedly during Britain's recent election campaign that a Conservative government would scrap this policy of the "internal settelement" election was properly conducted and black Rhodesians voted freely in large numbers.
The Rhodesian election has "considerably altered the situation," Carrington said today. "The Anglo-American plan has to some extent been overtaken by events."
The timetable for British action on Rhodesia-despite strong pressure from inside the Conservative Party to move quickly to recognize the new Rhodesian government and end economic sanctions-is likely to be determined by the August meeting of the Commonwealth nations in Lusaka, Zambis, and the November deadline for renewal of the economic sanctions by Parliament.
Carrington was also cautious about Namibia, where South Africa today authorized an interim government selected by South African-supervised elections boycotted by major black political parties there.
He noted that South Africa said its action did not necessarily mean an end to international negotiations for the territory's independence with a black majority government. "I will do everything in my power to see that those negotiations continue," Carrington said.
He sidestepped the question of whether Britain would abstain or vote against any future United Nations attempt to bring economic sanctions against South Africa if the negotiations fail.
Carrington said the Thatcher's administration's major emphasis in foreign affairs would be on Europe. Britain's membership in the European Economic Community, he said, "is central to Britain and British foreign policy. It is very important that we make a success of it."
The Conservative government's warmer attitude toward the Common Market, he said, should win consideration for Britain's complaint that it bears a disproportionately large share of the EEC's budget and suffers under high food prices because of EEC farm policies.
A "relaxation of tensions" between Europe and the Soviet Union will have the Conservative government's support, according to Carrington, if it is "two-way traffic," and "not just words" but also "positive actions that show both sides want detente."
He said the Conservative government welcomed the new strategic arms limitation agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union and hoped it would be ratified by the U.S. Senate. Any questions Britain has about safeguards of European security will be discussed with Vance next week, he added.