Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the Senate's Republican leader on foreign policy, has privately rejected a proposed White House compromise intended to resolve its current impasse with Congress on economic sanctions against the white minority government of South Africa, sources said Wednesday.
The decision by Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch Reagan loyalist, reflects the deep rift that the issue of sanctions against South Africa has created within the Republican Party. It has put Lugar at odds with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) as well as with the President.
Without the support of Lugar, who has engineered numerous compromises between the White House and Congress on a variety of issues, including South Africa, it is uncertain whether the President could prevent Congress from overriding his anticipated veto of the tough sanctions legislation currently on his desk.
Discussed With Regan
Congressional sources said that White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan discussed the proposed compromise in a Tuesday night meeting with Lugar and Dole. They quoted him as saying that the President is willing to sign an executive order imposing more sanctions on South Africa than are currently in force--but only if this would defuse the effort to override his expected veto of the stronger legislation enacted last week.
The proposed executive order might be patterned on an earlier, weaker version of the bill authored by Lugar and would not include many Democratic amendments adopted by the Senate, according to these sources. The Democratic amendments prohibit the import of textiles, agricultural products, iron and steel from South Africa, as well as the export of U.S. crude oil and petroleum products.
Reagan has flatly opposed any additional economic sanctions designed to demonstrate U.S. opposition to the South African system of apartheid, but a source who attended the Regan meeting said, "I was surprised how flexible the White House appeared to be."
Lugar rejected Regan's proposal, sources said, on grounds that it would undermine the legislative process and destroy his own credibility with Democrats in both the House and Senate, whom he had persuaded to accept the measure despite their desire for an even stronger bill.
Lugar Reported Disturbed
Lugar was understood to be disturbed that his allies in the Administration had boxed him into a position of siding with liberal Democrats and against the President. Ironically, it was Lugar who last year persuaded the President to use the same tactic--issuing a weaker executive order to kill congressional enthusiasm for sanctions legislation.
Neither Lugar nor his aides would discuss details of the proposed compromise, but the Indiana senator told reporters after the meeting with Regan that he still is encouraging the President to sign the legislation passed by Congress.
"I haven't changed my mind," he said. "My position is still that the President's leadership could be shown by signing the bill."
Dole, on the other hand, indicated that he is anxious for a compromise that would "allow the President to regain the high ground" on the issue of South Africa. Sources said Dole told Regan that the Senate would probably sustain a veto of the legislation if the President issued an executive order similar to Lugar's original bill.
The bill on Reagan's desk passed the Senate by a vote of 84 to 14--a margin that far exceeds the two-thirds vote needed to override a presidential veto.
On Both Sides of Issue
Sources said Dole views the compromise as a way to allow Republicans who supported the legislation, including himself, to uphold the President's veto and thus "be recorded on both sides of this issue"--insulating them from criticism by GOP conservatives. As a potential candidate for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination, Dole has been courting conservatives within the party.
Despite Lugar's reaction, Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, said she might support the proposed compromise--but only if the President issues an executive order with a strong statement condemning the Pretoria government. She said she is not convinced that Reagan is willing to make such a statement.
"If it's done right," she said, "it will send a strong statement to President (Pieter W.) Botha."
Sources said that without Lugar's support, Kassebaum's backing is seen as absolutely necessary if Dole is to persuade other Senate Republicans to accept the compromise.
Veto Override Predicted
But a number of senators questioned whether the compromise could succeed without Lugar's support. "We still should be able to sustain the bill that passed the Senate," said assistant Democratic leader Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), who with Cranston sponsored many of the amendments that would be eliminated by the proposed executive order, also predicted that the President's veto would be overridden.
In the House, Democratic leaders said that an executive order would have no impact on their efforts to override a Reagan veto. Without a two-thirds vote in both chambers, however, the President's veto would be upheld.
If the President's veto is sustained by Congress, liberal Democrats are expected to respond by offering even tougher sanctions as an amendment later this month to the omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through fiscal 1987--a bill that would be more difficult for Reagan to veto.