Conservative Sen. Jesse Helms on Monday stalled a vote on legislation that would impose tough anti-apartheid sanctions on South Africa, but Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole moved quickly to prevent any filibuster.
The measure would ban U.S. bank loans to the Pretoria government, curtail computer sales to South African government agencies and outlaw transfer of any goods involved in production of nuclear weapons. It passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, 16 to 1, with Helms casting the only dissenting vote.
On Monday, Helms (R-N.C.) maneuvered to keep the measure from coming to the Senate floor for debate. He argued that economic pressure on the Pretoria regime would cost South African blacks their jobs and undercut President Reagan's policy of using "quiet diplomacy" to stimulate reforms in that nation's apartheid policy of racial segregation.
But Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), a leading proponent of the sanctions, blamed Helms' move on a "dirty undercurrent of racism" among conservatives afraid to criticize the South African government because it is anti-Communist.
Meanwhile, Dole (R-Kan.) filed a motion that could force a vote Wednesday on breaking any filibuster attempt.
Cranston predicted that the Republican-controlled chamber would vote overwhelmingly for cloture, as the procedure is known, and then could move on to the bill itself, which he predicted would pass. But Helms insisted that he has enough support among conservative colleagues to prevail.
The Reagan Administration has opposed the notion of sanctions, but Chester A. Crocker, the State Department's top spokesman on African affairs, conceded Monday that some form of legislation to limit U.S. economic involvement in South Africa probably will be approved by Congress.
Crocker, speaking at a Washington debate on South Africa, declined to speculate about whether Reagan would veto such legislation in the face of what appears to be widespread support for it, even among his own party in Congress.
Tougher House Measure
A separate measure already approved by the House would impose even tougher penalties than the Senate legislation, blocking new U.S. investment in South Africa and forbidding the sale in this country of gold Krugerrand coins, a big money-earner for the Pretoria government.
But Helms, speaking to reporters, insisted that sanctions would backfire. "It would be very harmful to blacks in South Africa when we supposedly are trying to help them," he asserted. "They need jobs. They don't need fewer jobs. They need more jobs."
He also suggested that South Africa should not be punished because it opposes Soviet adventurism. "Anyone who doesn't understand that the Soviet Union is orchestrating upheaval in all of Africa, including southern Africa, doesn't understand what is going on," he said.
Cranston, in remarks prepared for the floor debate that was forestalled by Helms' maneuvers, likened South Africa's white-only leaders to the rulers of Nazi Germany and declared that "blind support of anti-Communist despots opens the door to communism."
He also rejected Helms' argument that sanctions would take jobs away from blacks. "That's like suggesting we shouldn't have abolished slavery in the South because it would result in some unemployment," he said.
Helms was also at the center of another controversy in the Senate on Monday as he and other conservatives continued to block confirmation of several Reagan appointees to ambassadorships and other important positions in the State Department.