Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond M. Tutu said yesterday he wants a face-to-face meeting with President Reagan to try to persuade him to end policies that Tutu called "immoral, evil and totally un-Christian" collaboration with the South African apartheid system of racial segregation.
Reagan has no plans to meet with Tutu during his current visit to the United States, but the White House did not know of the bishop's interest in meeting until yesterday's testimony, a White House spokesman said.
"There is no reluctance to meet with him. It is more a question of schedules," said deputy press secretary Robert Sims. "There is a general feeling that meetings at whatever level we can arrange would be desirable."
Members of a House subcommittee, both Democrats and Republicans, gave Tutu a highly unusual standing ovation after his testimony yesterday at a well-attended early morning hearing called specifically to solicit the views of the black South African bishop and antiapartheid leader.
"You the United States are guilty as an accessory before or after the fact" to South Africa's segregationist system, Tutu told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.
Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), meanwhile, yesterday began a bipartisan campaign in the Senate and House to get their colleagues to sign a letter urging Reagan to meet with Tutu to discuss South Africa.
"The president of the United States should invite you to meet with him," Levin said to Tutu, sitting in on the House subcommittee meeting. "That is the most direct and best way for him to hear first-hand" about events in South Africa and what is wrong with his policy, the senator said.
The Reagan administration's policy of "constructive engagement" is designed to influence South Africa gradually to change its segregationist policies through friendly persuasion rather than punitive actions, such as economic sanctions.
Assistant Secretary of State Chester A. Crocker, responding to increasing criticism and protests, defended the policies in an unusual White House briefing on Monday and denied that the Reagan administration is being soft on apartheid.
"Heaven help us when they do decide to be soft," said Tutu, who is to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo next week.
Tutu announced he would no longer meet with Reagan administration officials, other than the president or Secretary of State George Shultz, unless "constructive engagement" is abandoned.
"I have failed to persuade Dr. Crocker . . . and others," he said. "Constructive engagement has worsened our situation on apartheid."
He said he would welcome an invitation from the president but said after the hearing that he had not formally asked for one.
Picketing and arrests in front of the South African embassy, begun on Nov. 21, continued here yesterday and spread to seven cities. U.S. labor leaders became involved in the protests against the recent jailing without charges of 21 South African labor leaders and continuing violence in South Africa.
Tutu said the black South Africans are "deeply thankful for this expression of solidarity."
Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs, called for more pressure by the Reagan administration on the South African government to release the labor leaders and move faster on changing apartheid.
"I find it very frustrating, because rhetoric does come cheap, and I am very sympathetic to those who believe we have to become more active," Kassebaum said in an interview on "The Editor's Desk," an Independent News Network television program to be aired this weekend.
Tutu also said that if the United States does not assist in bringing about peaceful change in South Africa, "then we will have Armageddon."
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) said the standing ovation for Tutu , in violation of committee rules, may be a first.