Poland's road to normal Western ties may start in Paris
Warsaw — The road back to more normal economic relations between Poland and Western governments could begin in Paris this week. Talks about the rescheduling of Poland's debts open there today between the Poles and their 16 Western creditor governments.
The Poles want to link negotiations with guarantees of fresh Western credits. The credits are needed to help revitalize the economy - especially export industries, through which the Poles will be able to pay their debts.
They have already reached an accommodation with Western private bank creditors to postpone payment of the principal until 1989. Until then, the interest will be paid in the form of temporary new credits.
Given Poland's balance-of-payments situation, this arrangement gives the country breathing space. It now hopes for an agreement with the Western governments.
The commercial banks hold some $7 billion of Poland's debt bill. Another $4 billion to $4.5 billion is owed to the third world, to Communist allies, and to the Comecon Investment Bank in Moscow. All these are giving the Poles more time. The Western governments are the biggest creditors, to the tune of some $15.6 billion.
Repayment and negotiations initialed for rescheduling have been suspended since January 1982, when, a few weeks after the imposition of martial law, the United States and its NATO allies blocked all new credits. Stringent US sanctions in all areas of previous cooperation with Poland followed.
The West is still cautious, and this first round of negotiations in Paris is likely to be tough. But the impression here is that the West Europeans feel it is time to start lifting the ''blockade,'' at least by rescheduling.
This week the Poles will try to convince the Western governments that lifting sanctions and rescheduling debt are necessary for Poland's economic recovery - and the only way Western ceditors will see their money repaid without much further delay.
The West Europeans may not be in any hurry to put up fresh credits. But they seem to believe the time has come to terminate sanctions. These have largely (apart from credit) been an American concern.
The status of political prisoners could significantly affect the West's future moves. The state has been negotiating with Poland's Roman Catholic Church and with others concerned for the release of all political prisoners.
The government has contended that ever since the suspension and subsequent lifting of martial law - and the release of almost all the people detained during the initial emergency-period - it had done enough to warrant an end to Western restrictions.
But the Americans - more than the West Europeans - have stressed that the Poles have not done enough.
Even if an accommodation over the debts is reached with the West, and fresh credits are made available, the economic plight of ordinary Poles will not be eased.
Figures for 1983 have revealed a positive trend in the Polish economy for the first time in five years. Though the official report attributed a considerable part of the country's economic troubles to sanctions and credit freezes, the major blame was still put on internal economic weaknesses.
Polish Finance Minister Stanislaw Nieckarz said in an interview in Friday's Polityka that fresh credits would be exclusively applied to improving economic growth and developing export.
''It has to be done efficiently. We have to be ruthlessly consistent here,'' he said. ''To be blunt, not a single dollar of these new credits can be spent on increasing consumption, or on antyhing that does not generate new and lasting productive capacity and export potential.''