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Lugar Says South Africa Threatens to Stop U.S. Gain Buys if Veto Overridden

October 2, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The South African foreign minister warned two U.S. farm state senators his country would immediately end purchases of U.S. grain if the Senate overrides President Reagan’s veto of economic sanctions against South Africa, Sen. Richard Lugar said Wednesday night.

Lugar, R-Ind., called the action by Foreign Minister R.F. ″Pik″ Botha ″despicable″ and an unacceptable intrusion into Senate business that amounts to ″bribery and intimidation.″

Lugar, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the two senators - Edward Zorinsky, D-Neb., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, - were called to the telephone in the Senate Republican cloakroom by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a strong opponent of the sanctions.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Helms confirmed that ″Pik Botha called me and several other senators and said, ’We will have to announce we will cease to purchase U.S. grain if the president’s veto is overridden.‴ Helms also said he had called Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., to the phone.

According to Lugar, Zorinsky said the South African foreign minister told him that ″the moment that you override President Reagan’s veto, South Africa will immediately ban U.S. grain imports. ...″

Lugar said Botha also declared that South Africa would react to the override of the veto by barring from its ports U.S. grain shipments bound for the so-called frontline black African nations, some of which are landlocked and all of which are largely dependent on South Africa for transportation facilities.

″I believe that all Americans, and especially American farmers, will condemn foreign bribery and intimidation to change the votes of the U.S. Senate,″ Lugar said.

He said South Africa has turned to the American grain market and increased purchases of U.S. grain in the aftermath of sanctions imposed by Canada and Australia, which also are major grain exporters.

″We are being bribed because others have had moral courage and done what they should have done,″ Lugar said.

Lugar said he hoped senators would ignore Botha’s threat.

″I cannot imagine a senator would be influenced by what I call bribery and intimidation,″ Lugar said.

Lugar said he believes the White House lacks the votes needed to sustain the Reagan veto and said, ″I feel confident the veto will be overridden.″

The Senate, which was to vote on whether to override the veto Thursday afternoon, opened a four-hour debate on the issue as Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said senators might legitimately consider the possible adverse impact of sanctions on their states.

Dole said the South Africans have in the past bought ″substantial quantities″ of wheat and corn. ″I do believe that makes the point ... that there may be some consequences some people in our states, farmers, may have to contend with.″

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., said Botha also told senators that South Africa will purchase more U.S. wheat if the veto is sustained.

Earlier in the day, Reagan lobbied senators by telephone in a final push to preserve his veto of sanctions aimed at pressuring the South African government to abandon the system of apartheid.

Overriding a presidential veto requires two-thirds of senators present and voting. The House overrode the veto earlier this week.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who said the veto marks ″the darkest day in President Reagan’s tenure in the White House,″ turned to the Botha phone call and told the Senate: ″I agree with Sen. Lugar. This is bribery, this is intimidation. We should not let the bullies and thugs of Pretoria threaten the Senate of the United States.″

Helms later told reporters he had played the middleman’s role in the telephone calls, but said he was merely doing a favor for Botha, with whom he said he has been friends for 10 years. ″I think it’s quite all right for a friend to call a friend,″ he said.

To Lugar’s criticism of the action, Helms responded, ″If I may paraphrase Shakespeare, Methinks Mr. Lugar doth protest too much.″ Helms has been widely reported to be interested in taking over Lugar’s job as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Arnold Mentz, the economic minister at the South African Embassy in Washington, said total U.S. agriculture exports to his country have averaged $265 million a year since 1983, but were likely to jump substantially next year because large amounts of wheat will have to be imported to make up for a drought-damaged domestic crop.

″Now you’re talking big money,″ Mentz said. He said South African Agriculture Minister Greyling Wengzel had announced six weeks ago that the country would retaliate against farm imports if the United States adopted the sanctions.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz, asked whether the administration has the votes to sustain the veto, replied: ″Well, I don’t know. We’re working on it.″

″I think it’s very important that the Senate sustain the president’s veto first and foremost on the merits,″ Shultz said on NBC-TV’s ″Today″ show. ″ ... What the Senate bill, the Congress bill, will do is cause the United States to, in effect, withdraw from South Africa.″

Shultz on Tuesday contended that if senators choose to override the Reagan veto they will weaken the president’s bargaining position with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, when the pair meets in Iceland on Oct 10 and 11.

Dole won agreement for the Thursday vote after persuading ″one or two″ senators not to filibuster the veto override effort.

The Senate originally voted 84-14 for the sanctions legislation. If all 100 senators vote, the president needs the votes of at least 34 senators to block a two-thirds majority and make his veto stick. The bill Reagan vetoed would ban all new investment and all new bank loans, end landing rights in the United States for South African aircraft and ban the import of South African iron, steel, coal, textiles, uranium, arms, food and agricultural products.

The legislation passed by the House and Senate would go much further, taking the United States far along a course toward total disinvestment from South Africa.

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