U.S. Expels Senior S. African Attache : Washington Also Recalls Its Defense Aide From Pretoria to Protest Raids

Times Staff Writer

The Reagan Administration expelled the senior defense attache of the South African Embassy on Friday to demonstrate its outrage at South Africa’s military raids earlier this week on three neighboring black-ruled nations.

The State Department, in announcing the expulsion of army Brigadier Alexander Potgeiter, said that the Pretoria government would not be allowed to send a replacement. At the same time, the United States withdrew its senior defense attache, Col. Robert Hastie, from the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria.

Nevertheless, the department said, the Administration would continue to pursue its “constructive engagement” policy toward the white-minority government, which is designed to influence South Africa through normal diplomatic channels, instead of continuous confrontations.


Ambassador to Remain

A few hours before the expulsion was announced, Secretary of State George P. Shultz condemned Monday’s raids in strong terms and said that the United States was weighing options to demonstrate its objections to the cross-border attacks. But Shultz ruled out the withdrawal of U.S. Ambassador Herman W. Nickel from Pretoria.

“We must remember an ambassador is in the country to provide representation, and we don’t necessarily accomplish something by removing that representation,” he said.

Although the secretary said that “we are considering many options,” other U.S. officials said the Administration had ruled out imposition of further economic sanctions.

The department said Potgeiter was given 10 days to leave the United States. After his departure, South Africa will continue to have two military attaches in its embassy, navy Capt. Nicholaas S. Vorster and air force Col. Oliver Holmes.

Such expulsions of diplomats who are not personally accused of any wrongdoing to protest the policies of their governments are far from unprecedented. This week, for example, the State Department expelled two Nicaraguan diplomats, not for any misconduct but in response to Nicaragua’s accusations last March that four members of the U.S. Embassy staff in Managua had engaged in spying.

While, such actions are almost unknown against diplomats of a traditional U.S. ally, South Africa does not fall into this category. Although South Africa maintains formal diplomatic ties to the United States, the political relationship has deteriorated steadily over the past decade and economic ties have been curtailed. One State Department official characterized the relations as almost as bad as any the United States has with a non-Communist country.

At the South African Embassy, Information Counselor Manus Leroux said that Ambassador J.H.A. Beukes had been informed of the State Department order but “has nothing to say at this point in time.”

In explaining the expulsion order, the State Department said: “South Africa’s resort to force has threatened the security of the region and violated the international principle that political avenues should be given every opportunity” before the use of military action.

“This principle is particularly important in southern Africa, where violence regionally and internally in South Africa has reached alarming levels,” the department said.

After meeting earlier in the day with the foreign minister of Botswana, Gaositwe Chiepe, Shultz said that South Africa’s raid on Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia was “totally without justification (and) completely unacceptable.”

“Botswana has worked to solve the problem of security, so the possibility of a solution to the problem was there,” Shultz said.

Constructive Engagement

However, the State Department repeated its position of pursuing the constructive engagement policy.

“For our part, we intend to pursue our active diplomacy in the region aimed at ending apartheid in South Africa, bringing about Namibia’s independence, Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola and a strengthening of the fabric of security in the region as a whole,” the department said.

Nevertheless, many non-government Africa specialists, including some who once thought constructive engagement would work, say the policy has all but disintegrated even though the Administration continues to publicly endorse it.

Originally formulated in 1980 by Chester A. Crocker, then a Georgetown University professor, the constructive engagement concept calls for the United States to do business with the existing governments in southern Africa, striving to influence change throughout the region while avoiding outright hostility to South Africa’s white minority regime and its neighbors.

Alternative to Carter Policy

President Reagan embraced the plan at the start of his first term as an alternative to President Jimmy Carter’s policy, which combined overt animosity toward Pretoria with what Reagan and his backers considered a soft line toward the Marxist policies of some of the region’s black states.

Reagan appointed Crocker as assistant secretary of state for African affairs with virtual carte blanche to put his theory into practice.

Last year, constructive engagement scored what at the time appeared to be its most impressive success when South Africa and Mozambique signed a nonaggression treaty in which each country promised not to support guerrilla movements against the other.

Now, however, U.S. officials concede that the Pretoria regime never lived up to its end of the bargain. South Africa continues to support insurgents seeking to overthrow the Mozambique government.

Keeping Everybody Off Base

“The South Africans were never prepared to negotiate in any way that we could be associated with,” a Senate aide said. “We have been playing the messenger for the South African foreign minister. The South Africans know they can do anything they want and get away with it. The South African game is to keep everybody off base, including us.”

The Administration already has taken some long steps away from its original constructive engagement policy, imposing limited economic sanctions against South Africa last year to head off stronger sanctions threatened by Congress and agreeing to assist Jonas Savimbi’s insurgent movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. Friday’s expulsion continued that trend.

The Administration points proudly to a series of steps taken by the South African government to ease some of the most onerous provisions of apartheid. The government has ended bans on interracial marriage, integrated many public facilities, lifted so-called “pass laws” that required blacks to carry government permits to live and work in urban areas and promised to share political power at the national level with blacks for the first time.

But the reforms, denounced as too little and too late by some blacks, have been accompanied by a rising tide of violence within South Africa and increasingly brazen use of military force against neighboring countries.

‘We Don’t Control Situation’

“You run into real problems if you try to claim credit or accept blame for things that happen in South Africa because we don’t control the situation,” said a State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But we can look at the pace of change in South Africa and perhaps say that these might not have happened without our kind of approach to the South African government.”