- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2013

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, said Sunday he’s sure the 40th president regretted vetoing an anti-apartheid bill — a veto that Congress ultimately overrode in 1986.

“Certainly, he regretted it,” Mr. Baker said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “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.”

Mr. Reagan wanted to impose economic sanctions on South Africa via executive order, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill wanted to go further.

Mr. Baker also recalled on the program the time he met with Nelson Mandela on Namibian independence day three weeks after Mr. Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after serving 27 years for anti-apartheid activities.

“And I have to tell you that I was really amazed at the soft-spokenness of this man, at the condition of this man, at the dignity of this man,” Mr. Baker said. “He had an enduring and endearing presence of dignity that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on any other person, and I just have always felt that this was an extraordinarily beautiful human being who became, of course, an icon of freedom, of human rights and of reconciliation.”

Mr. Baker said he didn’t know why it took so long for the U.S. to remove Mr. Mandela from the terror watch list, but that he did recall a trip the South African president made to Mr. Baker’s institute at Rice University in 1999.

“A 12-year-old boy asked him after his presentation: ‘How do you want to be remembered, Mr. Mandela? Everyone talks about how you’re almost a saint,’” Mr. Baker recalled. “And Mandela said …, ‘I’m no saint unless you consider a saint to be a sinner who keeps on trying.’ And I thought that was a wonderful encapsulation of the person.”

Mr. Baker was secretary of state in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and secretary of the treasury under Reagan.