President Reagan hinted yesterday that he is considering limited sanctions against South Africa, only two days after he asked Congress and Western Europe to "resist this emotional clamor for punitive sanctions" against Pretoria.
Senior White House officials said that the president is weighing new actions against South Africa in response to a broad-based drive in the Senate for U.S. sanctions that would be short of the total trade embargo on South Africa recently voted by the House.
Questioned by reporters while watching a haylift operation in Columbia, S.C., on the final day of a political tour, the president said "we haven't closed any doors" against sanctions.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes drew a distinction between "punitive economic sanctions" and "other sanctions." He gave as an example of the economic sanctions the banning of landing rights to South African Airways. A landing-rights ban is a limited sanction that the Reagan administration has employed in the past against the Soviet Union, Poland and Libya. South African Airways has only a few U.S. flights each week.
Another senior official said that the landing rights sanction is being "actively considered" at the White House and that it is also possible there would be some restrictions on new -- as opposed to existing -- investment in South Africa. This approach has been suggested by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), who heads the African affairs subcommittee.
The administration also is trying to accelerate its selection of a new black ambassador to South Africa, the official said. A well-placed source said no final decisions on sanctions or other matters have been made in a round of meetings which followed Reagan's policy address.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday not to place the administration "in the straitjacket of rigid legislation" by voting sanctions, said under questioning by senators that a ban on U.S.-South Africa air links "probably would deliver a message" to Pretoria.
But Shultz ridiculed the idea of banning new U.S. investment in South Africa, saying that U.S. investors already are pulling out of that country for business reasons, rather than adding to their stakes.
Shultz, speaking yesterday to South African and Western European reporters over a satellite link arranged by the U.S. Information Agency, seemed more tolerant of new sanctions than during his testimony Wednesday, when he was met with a chorus of senatorial objections.
"There are sanctions in place now," Shultz replied to a South African reporter, referring to the limited measures taken by Reagan in September under congressional pressure. "Whether some additional ones would be helpful at this stage of the game, and if so, what kind, is obviously a debatable question."
Shultz emphasized that "we want to talk to our friends" in Western Europe, Japan and Canada "to see to it that if any actions are needed and are to be taken, they are taken in a coordinated way" so they will be most effective.
Assistant Secretary of State Chester A. Crocker, Shultz's senior aide on African affairs and the author of Reagan administration policies in the area, will travel next week to London and possibly other places in Europe to coordinate a policy, possibly including new sanctions. Crocker is expected to meet British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, whose current mission to South Africa is accorded major importance by the U.S. administration.
A senior State Department official who revealed the Crocker trip told reporters that the period between now and late September, when Britain has promised a report on South Africa to the European parliament, is "a window" of opportunity for positive steps to be taken by the Pretoria government. If no such positive action is forthcoming, the official said, that could be the time for new sanctions.
"The factual situation" in Congress, the official said, is that lawmakers want to "express themselves" by voting on South African legislation before Congress adjourns for the year this fall. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, may draft and approve sanctions legislation as early as next week.
Reagan said Tuesday in his policy speech that, "If Congress imposes sanctions, it would destroy America's flexibility, discard our diplomatic leverage and deepen the crisis." He did not specifically address the possibility that he, rather than Congress, might order new measures against South Africa.
An official who discussed the issue on condition he not be identified said some White House officials were taken aback by the "unrestrained praise" for the speech from South African officials, including Prime Minister P.W. Botha, combined with harsh criticism from many black leaders.
The official said that Reagan had criticized apartheid and tried to take "an even-handed approach." The official acknowledged, however, that reaction both in the United States and in South Africa interpreted the speech as strongly supportive of the Botha regime and said this had put the administration on the defensive.