House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted yesterday that the House will pass "tough economic sanctions" Tuesday against South Africa in a rebuke to the Reagan administration policy of "constructive engagement."
In a Democratic response to President Reagan's Saturday radio address, O'Neill charged that "constructive engagement" is "nothing more than a gentlemen's agreement to 'hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil' of South Africa."
He said the House vote on economic sanctions will "tell the world that we Americans place a higher value on the treasure of human rights and democracies than we place on the treasure of South African gold and South African diamonds."
The measure would ban U.S. government loans to the South African government and certain high-technology exports. It would curb new U.S. private investment in South Africa and the importation to the United States of South African Krugerrands, or gold coins.
O'Neill also attacked Reagan's policies in Central America as "a retread version of gunboat diplomacy."
"We should make it clear that we will live at peace with Nicaragua if Nicaragua will live at peace with its neighbors," he said.
As the congressional drive for sanctions against South Africa gains momentum, the administration is locked in its own struggle with the South African government regarding a May 21 commando raid close to the Gulf Corp. oil installation in northern Angola.
Two South African commandos were killed and a third wounded in a gun battle with Angolan military forces only about 300 yards from the oil installation, jointly owned by Gulf and the Angolan government. The surviving commando, who is in Angolan custody, said in a news conference his mission was to blow up the oil installation.
The Reagan administration condemned the raid and demanded an explanation from South Africa. As of yesterday the Pretoria government's replies have been unacceptable, officials said. Diplomatic discussions are continuing.
One reason for U.S. ire is the danger to an American company abroad and U.S. nationals working there.
Another reason is belief that the South African raid severely complicated U.S. efforts to arrange the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola through diplomacy.