S. African peace talks reach a stalemate


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Negotiations to end white rule in South Africa suffered a significant setback yesterday when a key committee of black and white leaders abandoned attempts to reach agreement on the percentage of votes that would be necessary to adopt a new constitution.

The stalemate, after five months of closed-door talks, puts the future of the negotiations process in the hands of President Frederik W. de Klerk, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela and 17 other political leaders in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa.

Their negotiators have reached substantial agreement on a variety of other contentious issues. But all those agreements hinge on the work of the one committee charged with deciding how to draft a new constitution. Mr. Mandela and Mr. De Klerk met privately for an hour late last night in a bid to resolve the impasse; they will address convention delegates today.

The convention is likely to send the outstanding issues back to committees for further discussion in the coming weeks. "I have no reason to be pessimistic," Mr. Mandela said.

"We should have the will to break the deadlock, and all our efforts are directed to that."

The government's foreign minister, Roelof F. "Pik" Botha, sounded a similar note of optimism. "The gap has been closed. Progress has been made," Mr. Botha said. "There are major problems to iron out. But we have no choice. The ANC has no choice. We must come to an agreement for the sake of all South Africans.

The stalemate came on the first day of a two-day session of the convention leaders, who had been expected to rubber-stamp agreements reached by their five negotiating committees and formally end exclusive white control of the country.

And the difficulties cast a shadow over significant progress by other convention committees, which have agreed to interim councils that would oversee the country until national elections and give blacks a say in national affairs as early as July or August.

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