The Reagan administration sought to buy time yesterday in dealing with growing congressional pressure for economic sanctions against South Africa, with White House officials saying that some proposals contained in new Senate legislation are acceptable to the president while others are not.
A senior administration official said that Reagan was "personally resistant" to more far-reaching sanctions proposed yesterday in legislation by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and even more reluctant to accept the total ban on new U.S. investment in South Africa sought by Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.).
Meanwhile, the Reagan administration's agreement to increase the rate of textile imports from South Africa was greeted with a bipartisan mix of astonishment and anger on Capitol Hill yesterday. The administration action appeared to increase the chances Congress will enact economic sanctions against South Africa this year.
Officials acknowledged severe conflict within the administration over the Lugar legislation, and said that Secretary of State George P. Shultz was more willing than the president to accept some economic sanctions against South Africa.
"Basically, the president would like to wait and see whether there is a possibility of concerted international action rather than a unilateral U.S. action," said an official familar with Reagan's views.
He said the White House was waiting to see whether British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a close friend and ally of Reagan, would change her opposition to sanctions after the results of an unsuccessful mission to South Africa by British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, who had tried to mediate between the South African government and the nation's black majority on behalf of the 12-nation European Community.
Officials said that national security affairs adviser John M. Poindexter had appealed to Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) to delay the sanctions legislation and received what a White House official called "a discouraging reply." The official said Dole told Poindexter that efforts to head off sanctions would complicate efforts to push ahead with other measures sought by the administration. Dole also was reportedly skeptical about the value of a Reagan proposal to send a special envoy to South Africa.
"Frankly, we're trying to come up with a new strategy," one White House official said.
The sanctions that Reagan reportedly would accept include measures in the new Lugar bill denying visas to employes of the South African government and government-controlled industries and ending landing rights for South African aircraft. But Reagan was described as reluctant to announce his support for even these measures, in part because Thatcher has opposed the landing rights ban.
Other sanctions proposed by Lugar would ban imports of South African steel, uranium, cement and aluminum; freeze U.S. bank accounts of government-controlled companies producing these materials, and give Reagan authority to sell off U.S. gold reserves to depress world gold prices and ruin the South African gold mining industry.
Lugar also would prohibit any new investment by a U.S. company that does not adopt principles aimed at equal treatment and equal wages for black employes. He also would write into law five limited sanctions Reagan imposed by executive order last year, a step the White House probably would not oppose, an official said.
The sanctions issue also became embroiled in hostile Hill reaction to the administration's agreement to increase textile imports from South Africa.
Citing serious problems facing the U.S. textile industry, Kassebaum called the decision "just amazing," adding that "it doesn't make sense."
Kassebaum, chairman of the African affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted a "strong effort" to enact legislation blocking the tentative bilateral agreement with the South African government.
"It does galvanize the southern senators," she said. "That can be helpful" in the congressional drive to impose new economic sanctions against South Africa, she added.
"I'm agin' it, wherever it's from," said one southern senator, James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.), of increased textile imports.
North Carolina is a major textile producing state hard hit by foreign competition. But the state's senior senator, Jesse Helms (R), is also a leading opponent of sanctions. Yesterday, Helms ducked questions on the issue, saying, "I want to look at imports from Red China, too."
A Democrat from a southern, textile-producing state, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, called the proposed textile accord an "outrageous insult" to U.S. workers that "gives the appearance that they're rewarding the South African government for its policy of apartheid."
White House officials, attempting to deflect the storm of criticism, said the measure was desirable because it would limit the growth of South African imports to 4 percent over the next year. But Lugar called the administration's decision to negotiate the agreement during the uproar over apartheid "hard to believe."
"I'm surprised that this kind of agreement was worked out in this atmosphere," Lugar said. "The administration overall should take a broader view."