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POLITICS: PennAve

Former Reagan chief of staff: President 'regretted' South Africa veto

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,PennAve,Ronald Reagan,Nelson Mandela,South Africa

James Baker, former White House chief of staff under President Reagan, said Sunday that the Republican ultimately regretted his veto of sanctions against the South African government during the apartheid era.

“Certainly, he regretted it,” Baker, a former secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, told CBS' “Face the Nation.”

“It was after all, I think, the only time a veto of his had been overridden in two terms,” Baker explained.

Baker insisted, however, that Reagan learned from the experience and increased his outreach to South African leaders after the congressional rebuke.

“On the other hand, once that happened and control of South Africa policy passed through the Congress, President Reagan was really determined to meet with the black leaders of South Africa and deal with the problems of apartheid, and he was able to do so,” he said.

Lawmakers at the time said that Reagan’s preference to impose sanctions through executive order was not a stiff enough punishment for the South African government.

Baker reflected on the contentious 1986 debate as world leaders prepare to travel to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela this week. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend a memorial service Tuesday in Johannesburg -- former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are also scheduled to travel to South Africa.

The former Reagan aide also honored Mandela on Sunday.

“He had an enduring and endearing presence of dignity,” Baker said, “that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on any other person.”

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner