Major defends SA arms sales effort

JOHN MAJOR yesterday defended his efforts to win British orders for defence sales to South Africa in spite of the continued arms embargo by the US.

Ending his tour of South Africa, the Prime Minister gave an optimistic forecast of the country's economic prospects, despite Baroness Thatcher's dissenting opinion. South African success was a probability, not a 'pipe dream', which would boost the whole of Africa, he said. 'I think the circumstances have changed . . . You only had to be with me in the dining room where Harold Macmillan made his 'wind of change' speech and see politicians who had been total opponents a few years ago seated at the same table talking, to realise the remarkable changes that have taken place in South Africa. I think it is right to take the approach we have taken.'

Mr Major sought to heal the rift with Lady Thatcher over her warning that, because of violence, firms were reluctant to invest in South Africa. Mr Major said that throughout her term, she encouraged investment and pumped aid into the townships. 'That she wishes South Africa well and has done continually I don't think that there is the slightest shred of doubt. The statements she issued to correct some misunderstandings answered the point thoroughly.'

Mr Major strongly supported a British bid to supply corvette defence vessels for the South African defence force. Mr Major's party, which included a team of businessmen, has disclosed no details of its arms talks. But officials have confirmed Britain is keen to win contracts for the South African air force. In return, the South African arms industry is expected to be allowed to bid with British firms to supply a new military helicopter.

It was put to Mr Major that the Americans would not lift the embargo until South Africans who breached their laws on arms sales stood trial and that Britain was taking an over-relaxed view of the South Africans who jumped bail on arms charges in the 1980s. Mr Major replied: 'I have indicated that I have got good faith in the prospects of South Africa and in the South African government. I cannot answer for other governments.'

(Photograph omitted)

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