Sanctions against South Africa are back on the political agenda in Washington - and tougher than before. The House of Representatives is slated to vote today on a bill that would impose comprehensive sanctions on South Africa. (Major provisions, Page 4.)
The Reagan administration, which opposes the legislation, is launching a last-minute effort to postpone the vote because of progress in talks on Angola and Namibia.
Supporters of the bill say they expect to deflect the call for postponement. The sanctions legislation, they add, will move forward, whatever the timing of the vote, because it reflects a powerful abhorrence to South Africa's apartheid system, especially among black Americans.
Administration sources say sanctions are the wrong approach. Officials argue the US risks cutting itself off from and hurting the South African blacks it wishes to help. Sanctions would also drive South Africa's white community away from reform, they say. In the short term, they add, the bill could also undermine progress on bringing peace to southwestern Africa.
Secretary of State George Shultz wrote House Speaker Jim Wright (D) of Texas Tuesday asking him to postpone the vote. Congressional sources say national security adviser Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker asked to meet with Speaker Wright and supporters of the bill late yesterday.
Administration sources say the vote could give those South Africans who are reluctant to yield control of Namibia an excuse to press their government to pull out of the US-mediated negotiations with Cuba and Angola.
Congressional sources respond that the vote will add extra pressure for South Africa to prove its sincerity. House action on the bill will not be the final word on sanctions, they say, since the Senate will still have to act if the bill is to become law this year.
Though the results of the meeting with Wright were not known at press time, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, Howard Wolpe (D) of Michigan, said he did not foresee any delay in the vote, unless President Reagan would agree to sign the final legislation if passed at a future time. A postponement of the vote, supporters say, would diminish the possibility of final Senate action on sanctions before October adjournment.
The domestic political importance of the bill is not lost on the House leadership. The Congressional Black Caucus and Jesse Jackson last week weighed in with Wright to get the vote scheduled. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis strongly supports the bill.
Supporters say if the bill is voted on today, it will pass with 260 to 290 of the 435 members voting yea. Three amendments will be considered, but none are expected to pass.
Whatever the outcome on the timing of the House vote, this large majority for tough sanctions reflects ``US domestic political reality'' says a senior Democratic staff member. With black politicians controlling major US cities and expanding their power in Congress, he says, ``it's inevitable that there will be a fundamental changes in our relationship with South Africa.''
The debate, however, remains heated about whether the proposed comprehensive sanctions are the best approach to change apartheid.
Position of black South Africans. Supporters say black South African opponents of apartheid support US sanctions. Opponents say South African blacks are rethinking that position as it becomes clear that sanctions will hurt them economically and may not end apartheid quickly.
Symbolic importance. Supporters say the US must show clearly its opposition to apartheid and rally its allies as well. They say the move will shock whites out of the belief they can hold power forever in South Africa. Supporters say 40 years of polite protest and last year's modest sanctions have not brought change, so the US must act boldly.
Opponents say it is unlikely the US will be able to persuade allies to impose sanctions. Rather than shocking white South Africans into changing, they say, sanctions will isolate reformers from outside support and drive many whites to more conservative positions. The US has to realize change will come slowly, supporters say, and be in a position to effect the change by being present to aid blacks.
South Africa's future black leaders: Supporters say sanctions will pave the way for good ties to the future black leadership of South Africa. Opponents say the sanctions will cut the US off from aiding black empowerment inside South Africa. US sanctions will generate massive new black unemployment, they say, and further limit opportunities for blacks to build economic power and leadership experience.
Strategic minerals: Supporters put an exemption in the bill to allow the US to import strategic minerals. Opponents say a selective South African boycott of the US is a likely response to US sanctions, and that would make the US very dependent on the Soviet Union for a number of these vital minerals.
US sanctions against South Africa Major provisions of Comprehensive Sanctions Bill in Congress: Exports. Would ban US exports to South Africa, except for limited number of exemptions. Would ban nuclear energy cooperation. Imports. Would ban items grown or produced in South Africa, except for publications; items produced by businesses wholly owned by blacks or other non-whites; strategic minerals certified by the President as essential to US economy or defense. Would ban imports from third countries of items with any parts that originated in South Africa. Disinvestment. Would prohibit US citizens or companies from holding investments in South Africa. Oil leasing. Would prohibit foreign oil companies from obtaining new US energy leases if they do business in South Africa. Third-party sanctions. Would require the President to retaliate against foreign companies that take significant commercial advantage of US sanctions. Intelligence, military. Would prohibit US intelligence and military agencies from cooperating with South African government, except for information about Angola. Aid. Would appropriate $40 million aid for disadvantaged South Africans. International sanctions. Would require President to try to reach agreement on sanctions with other countries. Lifting sanctions. Would allow the President to lift sanctions if Pretoria takes such steps as releasing political prisoners, repealing laws discriminating against non-whites. Existing US sanctions package in effect since October 1986: Imports. Bans imports of South African iron, steel, uranium, coal, agricultural products, and textiles. Exports. Reiterates previous bans on exports to South Africa of oil, petroleum products, arms, nuclear equipment. Investment. Prohibits new US loans to and investments in South Africa. Aid. Grants $40 million aid to disadvantaged South Africans; $4 million scholarship fund for victims of apartheid. Banking. Prohibits US banks from accepting deposits from South African government agencies.