Top South African official lashes out at chaotic US policy
Pretoria, South Africa
South Africa's foreign minister says recent United States sanctions against Pretoria will encourage violence, retard efforts to improve blacks' living standards, pave the way for new curbs on local news media - and bar the US from a role in resolving conflict here. In an hour-long interview yesterday with The Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post, Roelof (Pik) Botha said the sanctions - and Congress's override of President Reagan's bid to veto them - would also have the effect of prolonging South Africa's six-month-old state of emergency. His remarks were the most detailed view yet offered by a senior official here of a recent nose dive in relations with Washington.
``It is a pity. You are the most powerful nation in the world. You should have had the most efficient foreign policy instrument. And at present moment, you have the worst,'' Mr. Botha said. The outside world, he charges, no longer knows who is planning US policy - nor whether those who plan it can follow through on their commitments.
Declining explicit comment on the Iranian arms scandal, he traced US foreign policy ills to the post-Vietman retrenchment of the mid-1970s. After a brief show of presidential leadership in foreign policy under the Reagan administration, he suggested, Congress is again taking the upper role in decisions affecting Washington's international commitments.
``Not only we but no government in Africa or elsewhere can really rely on the consistency of the United States foreign policy,'' he said. ``From Moscow, right through Africa to the Far East - including us - I think there is a consensus on this one.''
Asked for comment on last week's offer of American ``good offices'' by Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, Botha said Pretoria is opposed in principle to ``that kind of [international] interference.'' But, he added, ``Even if we were not, how reliable is it? What would your Congress do with any deal I might make with your present government, or for that matter the next one?''
Botha said that even before the October override of Reagan's veto, the US policy of ``constructive engagement'' with Pretoria had been fatally flawed. Botha said that while US officials may have talked to the South African government more politely than under President Carter, they remained ``partial'' to South Africa's black neighbor states. Instead of encouraging dialogue on race-policy reforms, ```constructive engagement' meant that [political] pressure was being exerted on the South African government.''
On domestic issues, Botha confirmed rumored plans to seek further curbs on the South African news media.
The reports followed a recent meeting between President Pieter Botha (no relation to the foreign minister) and local newspaper publishers, in which he is said to have secured a consensus that the state-of-emergency crackdown on violence required new restraints on news coverage.
Without elaborating, the foreign minister said further curbs on the local press, already covered by state-of-emergency restrictions on reporting security force actions, are ``envisaged.''
But, he said, ``the need for security and the restoration of law and order [is] at present paramount in our minds. We've got sanctions in any event. So it is of great importance - also from a foreign affairs point of view - that stability, order, law must be restored.''
He said violence was threatening to ``erode the normal democratic rules that we are all attached to,'' and charged that some newspaper reports were encouraging violence.
``There are times - and this is a time like that for us - when those very norms and standards that are so dear to Americans, and I believe to us, are being threatened, and the normal procedures at your disposal are inadequate.'' At such times, Botha said, ``the government has a very painful decision to take: to what extent should we not suspend those normal rules and procedures?''
Botha said the emergency crackdown is slowing violence, but has not ended it. He argued that the US sanctions, meanwhile, give advocates of ``intimidation and violence'' the impression that ``violence is working: the more violence, the more sanctions; the more sanctions, the more we can cripple this economy; the more we can cripple this economy, the better our chances of installing this dictatorial regime that we all have in mind.''
Botha said sanctions would indeed harm the economy - and thus ``retard'' costly programs to provide better housing, schooling, and other facilities for South African blacks. He added: ``In effect, the United States legislation ensured that we will have a state of emergency for a longer period than would otherwise have been the case.''