Poland: time for US to respond

With its weekend amnesty to political prisoners, Poland has taken a major step toward trying to meet American objections to its conduct toward its citizens. It is Warsaw's way of seeking to normalize its relations with the West.

In turn, this is a good moment for the United States to respond promptly and positively, and to reconsider its long-term relationship with Poland.

It is also an appropriate time for Washington to loosen some of the restrictions it has placed on Warsaw.

For the short term, the prisoners' release may strain Poland's relations with the Soviet Union. The Kremlin and other East-bloc hard-liners can hardly be pleased to see all 652 political prisoners released, including four Solidarity advisers who had just been put on trial.

Still, any move in the East bloc to accommodate Western sensitivities on human and political rights makes it easier for the West to meet with East-bloc leaders on security and other matters that divide them.

In turn, easing of US sanctions could be expected to edge Poland closer to the West, with which it has strong cultural and religious ties. Over time the likely result would be a further loosening of Warsaw's restrictions on its own people, a principal aim of American policy.

Failure of the US to loosen sanctions could allow Poland to sink more deeply into the Soviet camp. Poland needs help with its economy. Without such help, domestic restrictions could again be tightened.

Washington should take two steps: permit Polish airliners to make commercial flights in the US and support Poland's entry into the International Monetary Fund.

Warsaw was disappointed that the American response to last year's partial amnesty was so modest: The US let Polish vessels fish in US waters and permitted the Polish airline to make charter flights to the US.

Washington now need not end all sanctions. Retaining some would permit the US continued leverage over Poland. Despite the amnesty move, Warsaw has not met all of Washington's demands: Major economic reforms are not yet in effect, and no effective dialogue exists between government and people.

For its part, Poland desperately requires from Washington and other Western nations economic assistance and more favorable trading opportunities, so as to rebuild its sagging economy. Poland seeks a restoration of its most-favored-nation trading status with the US.

Like many other countries Poland has borrowed more than it is able to repay under current conditions. Western governments are already discussing rescheduling of those debts, presumably by stringing them out as commercial banks have already done. Such aid would help Warsaw get its economy moving again. Becoming a member of the International Monetary Fund would also help. It would give Poland access to new capital, and would subject the Polish economy to the useful discipline of strict IMF regulations for obtaining loans.

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