Archive (Reagan Library)

South Africa: President Reagan letter to President P.W. Botha (explains US measures) [declassified 1999]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: White House
Source: Reagan Library (NSC African Affairs Directorate Box 91026)
Editorial comments: Handling documents precede the letter itself.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1,615
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Foreign policy (USA)


September 6, 1985



SUBJECT: South Africa - Proposed Presidential Speech/E.O. Statement/Letter to Botha

Attached at Tab I is a memo from you to the President which asks his approval to make a statement Monday announcing his sanctions decision, requests his final selection of the E.O. items he wants to issue in that statement, and requests he sign the letter to President Botha.

The altered E.O. and summary reflects the President's recommendations and concerns at this morning's meeting. It has received inter-agency policy approval (State, DOD, Treasury, Justice, CIA, OMB) and was written by State. Lawyers are still looking at fine points, but John Cooney (OMB) has promised a final document Monday morning. The draft speech has been changed to be consistent with the new language. The speechwriters (Ben Elliot) still have not cleared the speech, but I have told them we need it today.

We will need to work out which Congressional calls you and Secretary Shultz make on Monday before the speech. Walt Raymond and Dave Miller have some recommendations on an extension of the legislative strategy but which will be covered in a separate paper. If the President accepts all of the E.O. elements presented, I believe we have a decent chance of gaining key Congressional support for sustaining a veto.

RECOMMENDATION: That you forward the memo at Tab I to the President.



Tab 1: Your memo to the President
Tab A: E.O. items to be announced by President
Tab B: Draft E.O. for reference
Tab C: Proposed letter to President Botha of South Africa
Tab II: State’s memo to you

[end p1]


September 7, 1985


SUBJECT: Proposed Presidential Executive Order and Letter to President Botha


To make a statement on your decision to veto the proposed South African sanctions bill, to announce an Executive Order (E.O.) in that statement, and to sign a Presidential letter to South African President Botha.


The State Department requests that you announce your decision to veto the Congressional Conference Report, “Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985”, select those E.O. items you wish to announce in conjunction with the veto statement, and sign the proposed letter to President Botha.


Based on decisions made by you at the NSC meeting yesterday, September 5, and in the Oval Office this morning, you will announce on Monday, September 9, your decision to veto the proposed legislation, but at which time will also announce an E.O. on elements of the Conference Report you can support. At Tab A is a State-furnished summarized version of those provisions from which you can confirm your final actions. These will be included in the text of your September 9 statement, which is being cleared by the speechwriters today. At Tab B is the draft E.O. on the options presented.

In your letter to President Botha at Tab C, to be carried by Ambassador Nickel when he returns to South Africa early next week, you tell Botha you have decided to oppose the Congressional sanctions legislation because you do not wish to undermine the South African people, but that you are accepting certain features which signal our deep distress over injustice in South Africa. In a frank spirit, you call on Botha to make those bold initiatives which can help mend South Africa and engage representative black leaders in dialogue. Without those bold initiatives, we, and the West more broadly, will not be able to play a constructive role in South Africa's future.


The draft E.O. takes into account your recommendations made at this morning’s Oval Office meeting. Pending your decisions, a final copy will be ready for your signature on Monday.


OK/NO: That you announce your sanctions veto decision at the White House on Monday, September 9.

OK/NO: That you select the E.O. items at Tab A which you will announce in the same statement.

OK/NO: That you sign the letter to President Botha at Tab C.


Tab A: E.O. Items to be announced
Tab B: Draft E.O. for reference
Tab C: Your letter to President Botha

cc: Vice President

[end p2]


September 6, 1985

Dear Mr President:

I have asked Ambassador Herman Nickel to return to South Africa to convey to you the deep concern and the compassion with which I have been following the difficult times the people of South Africa and your government are experiencing. The international repercussions of events in South Africa, including the financial effects, trouble me greatly; I have been briefed fully on the visit to Washington of the Governor of your Reserve Bank, Dr de Kock. Within our own country, the problems of South Africa have occupied the attention of the American public as never before, arousing deep emotions on issues that touch the most sensitive nerves in our body politic.

Let me assure you that, along with an overwhelming majority of Americans, my Administration would like to see, and is prepared to encourage those working for a stable, prosperous, and democratic South Africa. This can only mean a South Africa that is at peace with itself. I am reminded of the warning of Abraham Lincoln, that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." Therefore, there is no question in my mind that the conflict your beautiful and promising country faces will have to be solved politically by South Africans of all races. Given our profound concerns and important interest in your country's future, I want you to know that I and my Administration are determined to conduct a responsible policy toward your government and country, mindful of the dangers that all South Africans face at this moment in your history.

With this in mind, I have decided to oppose legislation being considered by the United States Senate and which has already passed our House of Representatives. I do not want my Administration to be party to measures which further disrupt South Africa's economy and undermine the prospects of its people. At the same time and with a view to building support in the United States for a constructive approach to help end apartheid and contribute to a new political future for South Africa, I have decided to accept certain features of current legislation which signal the deep distress Americans share about the need for an end of repression and injustice in your country. My decision will not be a popular one but I have taken it after great reflection. I can only hope that decisions you take in the days and weeks ahead will make it possible for me to maintain the course I have chosen.

I must be frank. It is clear to me that the troubles which your country now faces, both internally and internationally, require you to take bold initiatives if the current debilitating impasse in South Africa's affairs is to be broken and the negotiations to which you committed your government on August 15 are to start. Without such initiatives, our Congress, the international banking community and governments in the West more broadly, will not be able to play a constructive role in South Africa's future. The time has come for all South Africans to reach out to one another, end the violence and begin to build a peaceful society. Your government has a special responsibility to open the way.

The initiatives you take must be ones that will bring representative black leaders to the table for open-ended talks on the elimination of racial discrimination and political participation by all groups, in a manner that protects the rights and interests of everyone. For such talks to begin and be successful, I believe that even key leaders now in jail or detention must participate. There must also be a return to normal conditions in communities subject to the State of Emergency. While I accept that South Africans alone can negotiate their political future, such a negotiation will only take shape if you and your government are clear about your intention to end inequality between South Africa's racial groups and to define the extent to which power will be shared and the steps required to reach that goal.

Concrete movement by your government on the Namibia and Angola negotiation would go far to quell the stormy international atmosphere. Our synthesis paper is a fair and workable proposal. I urge that you respond positively to our efforts in the region which continue to promote the objective of regional peace and the reduction of foreign intervention.

Creative action on both domestic and regional issues would receive the support of my Administration and, I believe, of Western political and financial leadership on both sides of the Atlantic. I have instructed Ambassador Nickel to explain my decisions and explore your own thinking and that of your government on the initiatives you plan to take. I will give your views my most careful and immediate attention and they will influence the future of our relationship and the role which my country will play in your region. I repeat, we want to help and the thoughts contained in this letter are my best judgment of what is required for South Africa to secure domestic tranquility and regional security. But I must emphasize time is of the essence. The moment has come to move forward decisively.

Mr President, I believe that we now stand at a crossroads. Let history record that, with God's help, we took the right turn, for the sake of our peoples and their relationship with each other.


Ronald Reagan

His Excellency
Pieter Willem Botha
State President of the Republic of South Africa