The Reagan administration expressed "outrage" yesterday at South African attacks on black nationalist guerrilla sites in three neighboring countries and said the raids could be "a major setback" to efforts to promote talks between South Africa's white and black leaders.
Assistant Secretary of State Chester A. Crocker summoned the minister of the South African Embassy, Andre Kilian, to the State Department yesterday to lodge an official U.S. protest over the raids into Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana in which at least two people were killed. The administration also lodged a protest through the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria.
"We vigorously condemn these attacks by South Africa," White House spokesman Larry Speakes said. "The United States stands with the governments and peoples of those countries [attacked] in expressing our sense of outrage at these events and our condolences to the families of the victims."
U.S. officials said no decision had been made on further U.S. actions, but Speakes ruled out the possibility of additional U.S. sanctions.
Last June, the administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Herman W. Nickel, in protest over a similar South African raid into Botswana and another aborted attack on a Chevron oil installation in northern Angola. Asked whether Nickel would be recalled again, a White House official said it was "a possibility" but indicated no decision had been made.
The South African attacks yesterday on sites belonging to a black nationalist group, the African National Congress (ANC), came in the midst of delicate mediation efforts by a Commonwealth team of "eminent persons" led by the former leaders of Nigeria and Australia. The group is seeking to arrange talks between South African whites and blacks, and to gain the release from jail of ANC leader Nelson Mandela.
Noting reports of some progress in the Commonwealth group's efforts, Speakes said the raids were "particularly inexplicable."
"We think that these actions could very well be a major setback for that progress," Speakes added.
Administration spokesmen were pressed yesterday to explain why Washington was condemning South Africa for its raids against what it regards as black nationalist "terrorists" when the United States has just carried out an attack on Libya for its backing of terrorist attacks on American interests.
Both Speakes and State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb were quick to reject any parallel between the two situations.
"The Libyans and Col. [Muammar] Qaddafi," said Speakes, "have been the No. 1 exporter of terrorism on a worldwide basis and we've produced proof of that."
South Africa, Speakes said, was involved in talks with the three neighboring states on what appeared to be a "constructive solution" to limit cross-border raids by black nationalists when Pretoria decided to attack. "It's quite a different situation," he said.
Asked whether the administration shared Pretoria's view that the ANC is a terrorist group, Kalb said the administration regarded it as "an important political organization that must be a factor in negotiations over South Africa's future."
But Kalb said the United States had also repeatedly condemned the ANC's use of violence "for political ends" and expressed its concern over the group's close ties to the Soviet Union.