The Polish crisis may have eased away from the boiling point for the moment, but the administration still appears decidedly apprehensive about it. "There has been some relaxation of pressure in the last day or two," Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told a breakfast gathering of reporters April 14, cautioning, however, that "a very large force capable of intervening in Poland at very short notice" remains in the field.
In his view, the Soviet Union continues to display "substantial opposition" to the Polish trade union movement, Solidarity.
A Soviet invasion of Poland, Secretary Weinberger warned, would "gravely undermine" the conditions necessary for talks with Moscow on the effective limitation of both strategic and theater nuclear weapons.
Indeed, he declared that arms talks with the Soviet Union stand "no hope of success at a time when the Soviets are threatening to intervene in another country.
While disclosing that there are in excess of 20 divisions "ready to go" should Moscow order an invasion of Poland, the defense secretary stressed that deployment of additional units to the area "seems to have stopped." Declared Weinberger: "The steady increase of pressure is not taking place now, but there are still a lot of Soviet troops in and around Poland."
The secretary, who has just returned from a NATO trip that took him to Britain, West Germany, and Italy, declared himself "very pleased" with the determination of alliance members to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles on their soil, although he noted that the Dutch have yet to affirm their participation in the deployment.
Weinberger, who won high praise in Europe for the courteous and forthright manner with which he explained Reagan administration defense thinking, declared NATO to be unshakably committed to its dual decision of December 1979 to both modernize its theater nuclear forces and to seek limitations on such weaponry in talks with Moscow. But he emphasized the need to "keep to the schedule for deploying the missiles."
NATO's decision to deploy 464 ground-launched cruise missiles and 108 Pershing IIs in Britain, Italy, West Germany, Holland, and Belgium constitutes a response to the Soviet deployment of SS-20 mobile missiles, the Backfire bomber, and other systems.
Weinberger charged that a moratorium on the deployment of theater nuclear weapons, proposed recently by the Soviet Union, would only "freeze existing levels of imbalance" and thereby prevent a restoration of "that balance which we think is the greatest force for peace there is."
Asked about his reported hint that the US might sell arms to China if the Soviet Union invades Poland, he denied he had suggested such a response. "I didn't think that I had," he declared.
Reflecting on the meaning of detente, the secretary asserted that "the idea of trying to have relations in which superpowers do try to live in peace is desirable, but it is foolish to think that we had such a situation during the [ recent] period of detente." Many Soviet actions, he declared, were "incompatible" with peace and tranquillity.
The secretary implied that he enjoyed cordial relations with Alexander M. Haig Jr., despite a mild contretemps with the secretary of state in the White House situation room following the attempt on Reagan's life. During his European trip, Weinberger said, the two of them "sent signals back and forth," had phone conversations, and coordinated fully. "We are speaking with the full knowledge of what the other is saying," he added.