Food for Poland: a US opportunity

The United States may have been understandably reluctant to take the Western lead in alleviating Poland's economic distress. The US ranks only fourth among Poland's Western creditors, with West Germany at the top. But there is no reason for America to hang back on immediate food aid that requires only White House authorization to go forward. After last year's poor harvest, Poland needs additional US credits or credit guarantees, along with all it is receiving from Europe, to carry it through until this year's harvest. It has asked for $200 million in Commodity Credit Corporation credits for purchases of food in the United States. To expedite this would not only honor a humane American tradition but contribute to the Polish stability necessary for stability in Europe.

It is to be hoped that delay on the matter is due not to administration opposition but to slowness in bureaucratic organization. There is no evidence to support the Machiavellian notion circulated by some Polish quarters that a hard-line Washington would like to let Polish problems invite a Soviet invasion as a means of uniting NATO behind US policies. The $200 million in food credits , added to the $675 million previously authorized, would be a clear gesture of support for Poland's solving its own problems and thus forestalling Moscow's intervention.

This week's constructive negotiations in Poland ought to encourage all Western nations along these lines, as international bankers meet to discuss the larger questions of economic assistance and refinancing Poland's debts. After a discussion between President Reagan and West German Chancellor Schmidt, the major Western nations seemed agreed that economic assistance would have to come to an end if suppression in Poland were applied either externally (by Moscow) or internally (by the Polish government or communist party).

Thus it is important that the new Polish agreement not only led to suspension of a general strike that might have brought Soviet suppression but contained provisions addressing internal suppression. Union leader Lech Walesa saw the compromise reached with government representatives as a "great achievement." It included a government apology for the police assault on unionists in the town of Bydgoszcz, an admission the attack was "clearly against the rule of solving all conflicts through political means," and an order that it be investigated. The vexed question of a rural equivalent to the Solidarity union organization was dealt with by allowing the farmers' union to operate as if it is legal until its status is finally determined. Solidarity, among other concessions, accepted part of the blame for the Bydgoszcz episode. Both sides agreed to negotiate to prevent any new conflicts from leading to catastrophic results.

This appears all to the good. But meanwhile the Poles need food. Here is where the US has a prime opportunity to help right no w.

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