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Reintegrating a Divided Europe. US diplomats call for strong cultural and economic links to strengthen reform efforts. HANDS ACROSS THE IRON CURTAIN

By Charlotte SaikowskiStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 10, 1989


AS George Bush wrestles with his presidential agenda, diplomatic specialists are calling for a bold, imaginative United States policy toward Eastern Europe. Their formula for nudging along change in the Soviet-bloc countries is simple: Build a massive network of links with them and in effect integrate them into the West.

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During the campaign, Vice-President Bush spoke of Eastern Europe as ``an area of opportunity'' for the West. As part of the debate taking place during this transition period, senior US officials as well as academic experts are urging a more assertive American policy. Such a policy, besides proclaiming the need for long-term structural political changes, would embrace active steps to help countries in the bloc become a normal part of Europe.

``While we want ultimately to see changes in structural systems - the legalization of Solidarity in Poland, for instance - and should work away at that, we should also do concrete things,'' says Mark Palmer, US ambassador to Hungary. ``We should be working away at what makes the tenor of the societies more livable and normal.''

Ambassador Palmer, who is zestfully promoting American activities in Hungary that encourage economic and political reform, stresses such steps as these:

Establish and expand student-exchange programs so that thousands of young people, especially at the high school level, study and live in each other's countries.

Let the Voice of America go into television, buy satellite time, and beam programs into the Soviet Union and other East European nations.

Expand the Western commercial presence in the region, encouraging business ventures and trade that will enable the East European countries to become genuine market economies.

Broaden ties between Western political groups and democratic forces in Eastern Europe now openly debating the issue of democratization.

``We should get off our black-and-white attitude and get our private sector thoroughly involved in Eastern Europe,'' says Palmer. ``We're doing things in terms of increasing travel and American business involvement, but we're doing that very half-heartedly.''

The number of US congressional delegations visiting Eastern Europe is ``pitiful,'' Palmer says. American universities are not doing enough to establish a presence in such countries as Czechoslovakia. Even the West Europeans have established few cultural centers or joint business ventures in the area.

Meanwhile, the ambassador notes, the Japanese, South Koreans, Taiwanese - as well as Israelis - are moving into the area commercially and culturally with great vigor.

Even under the Reagan administration Eastern Europe has been receiving increasing attention. Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead has raised the profile of the region, spurring a political dialogue about US policy in an age of Soviet glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).

ACUTELY conscious of the winds of change whipping through the Soviet Union, Washington has sought to improve ties with countries in Eastern Europe that are also struggling with pressures for reform. The administration has been pressing Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and others to restructure their economies along free-market lines and to expand human rights.