Under pressure from Britain and West Germany, the 10 European Community countries decided against a far-reaching package of joint economic sanctions against South Africa. The decision Tuesday followed a last-minute appeal by the Reagan administration that the EC countries not do anything that would destablize South Africa and disrupt its economy.
At the insistence of other EC countries, however, including France, the foreign ministers of the EC countries decided to collectively apply a series of punitive measures against the Pretoria regime. Officials said that the British government had entered a general reservation on those measures.
These measures are likely to have little effect on EC-South Africa economic relations. They include an oil embargo, a halt on the sale of paramilitary and nuclear equipment, and a breaking off of cultural ties.
Most EC countries have already taken these steps, according to officials here.
Several foreign ministers, including those from Britain and West Germany, argued that economic sanctions were likely to be counterproductive, hurting South Africa's black population and neighboring black African countries while doing little to persuade the Pretoria government to abolish apartheid.
``We share the US administration's aim of avoiding measures which are destructive of the South African economy,'' said Sir Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign secretary, ``since we think these will bear most heavily on the weaker section of the population and on neighboring countries. We therefore remain opposed to mandatory sanctions, which we think are likely to be counterproductive.''
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher argued along similar lines, officials said.
Government officials said that the failure by EC countries to come down hard on the South African government -- despite their distaste for apartheid -- can be traced largely to economic interests. Last year, for example, EC trade with South Africa was worth nearly $13 billion. Over two-thirds of the $5.7 billion in exports originated in Britain and West Germany.
An EC official said that United States Secretary of State George Shultz had sent a letter to the president of the EC Council of Ministers, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos, on Monday asking the community countries to act in concert with the US when determining policy toward South Africa.
The EC foreign ministers spent more than nine hours Tuesday discussing EC relations with South Africa, basing their discussions on a report by the ministers of Luxembourg, Italy, and the Netherlands who visited the country this month. The ministers were said to have come away from the visit believing that economic sanctions could be counterproductive.
The headline on the Page 9 article yesterday on European Community sanctions which read ``European nations decide against sanctions on S. Africa'' should have read ``European nations decide against far-reaching sanctions on S. Africa.''