Administration urged to lift remaining sanctions on Poland. Political amnesty said to open door to normalized relations
Washington — When Poland's communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, announced the release of 225 political prisoners last month, the door was opened for the first normal relations between the United States and Poland in five years. Now US officials are debating whether to complete the normalization process by dropping the last of several sanctions imposed when the Warsaw government declared martial law and cracked down on the Solidarity trade-union movement in 1981.
Leaders of the Polish-American community, backed by supporters in Congress, say that dropping the remaining US sanctions on Poland offers the best chance for the US to preserve its influence over events in Poland.
``The Jaruzelski regime was pressed by economic circumstances to declare the full amnesty in hope that this would bring about the end of sanctions,'' says Jan Nowak, a national director of the Polish-American Congress. ``If their hopes do not materialize, there is a likelihood of retrogression.''
But some Reagan administration officials say that by reciprocating too quickly, the US could be sacrificing leverage to inhibit another crackdown in Poland.
They observe that in 1984, Poland rearrested 12 of 300 political prisoners who had been released as part of a broad amnesty.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and other top State Department officials met on Saturday to review US policy toward Poland in the wake of last month's amnesty. A State Department source said consideration was being given to dropping the sanctions.
The source added, however, that there was ``a certain wait-and-see quality to US policy'' as Washington gauges whether the Warsaw government is ``fully serious and will fully maintain the spirit of the amnesty by not rearresting any of the freed political prisoners.''
This official said the US will not impose any new conditions for lifting the sanctions. But he noted that further steps to promote national reconciliation in Poland would be ``viewed as positive signs'' by the US.
The recommendations of the policy review committee have been transmitted to the White House. President Reagan could decide whether to lift the remaining sanctions within a few weeks.
Following the crackdown on Solidarity in 1981, the Reagan administration imposed a series of tough sanctions on Poland.
The US also called on Warsaw to lift martial law, free all political prisoners, restore legal rights to Solidarity, and resume a dialogue with Solidarity and the Roman Catholic Church.
Since then several of the sanctions, including a ban on US landing rights for the Polish airlines, have been lifted in response to concessions by the Warsaw government.
Also, responding to the release of two leading Solidarity activists in December 1984, the State Department lifted its objection to Polish membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), enabling the Polish government to apply for international loans and resume its borrowing in Western financial markets.
But the two key sanctions imposed by the US -- a ban on new US government-guaranteed credits to Poland and the repeal of Poland's ``most favored nation'' trading status with the US -- remain in effect.
The repeal of both measures is considered necessary by Polish officials to spur economic recovery and to help generate the foreign exchange needed to repay Poland's $32 billion debt to Western banks.
In a press conference last week, several leading congressional supporters of Poland urged the Reagan administration to respond to last month's amnesty by lifting the remaining sanctions.
Spokesmen for the group, backed by Polish-American leaders, say sanctions have served a useful purpose by demonstrating US support for Poland's free trade-union movement.
But, they contend, failing to reciprocate now could open the US to accusations by the Warsaw government that the US is responsible for the continued deterioration of Poland's economy.
``In view of a clearly threatened economic disaster, we do not want communist propaganda to be in a position to blame the US policy of sanctions for the decline of the Polish economy,'' says one US specialist on Poland. ``That would make us the scapegoat.''
Advocates of lifting the remaining sanctions on Poland also note that the sanctions the US levied on the Soviet Union for supporting the Polish crackdown have now been dropped.
US State Department officials say what concerns them most is the possibility that, having reaped the public-relations value of last month's amnesty, Poland could rearrest the political prisoners, as it did in 1984.
But Polish-American leaders say they believe the larger risk lies in not responding positively to the amnesty.
``It's more likely that the people who have been released from jail under the amnesty would be sent back to jail if the US does not respond than if it does respond by lifting the sanctions,'' Mr. Nowak says.
Nowak says a ``carrot offered by the US can help the opposition more than maintaining sanctions.'' But he urges the US to tie future support for IMF credits to Poland to continued progress on Polish human-rights issues.