As the United States prepares to resume an arms control dialogue with the Soviet Union, it may also soon take steps to improve relations with one of Moscow's key allies - Poland.
The Reagan administration is reconsidering its opposition to Poland's application for membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and may announce its decision soon, according to a Treasury Department official. A favorable US action would be in response to Poland's recent release of two prominent Solidarity leaders under its amnesty program of last summer.
Some Polish-Americans, despite their distaste for the communist government in Warsaw, are urging President Reagan to act speedily in order to bolster the hand of Poland's leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, in the face of hard-line attacks on him within Poland.
''It is vitally important that the US administration quickly respond to the release of the two prisoners and withdraw its veto to IMF membership,'' says Jan Nowak, a national director of the Polish-American Congress. ''Otherwise the US will lose its credibility in Poland and its influence.''
President Reagan in August stated that once the Polish amnesty was reasonably completed, this would create the climate for US reconsideration of its position on the IMF veto, one of three remaining US sanctions on Poland.
At this point the Polish-American community appears divided, with some favoring continued US pressure on Poland.
''Poland is close to fulfilling Reagan's conditions, but the time has not yet come (to lift sanctions),'' says Boleslaw Wierzbianski, editor of the New York newspaper Nowydziennik. ''Poland should liberalize a bit more.'' Among other things, he says, Poland should exchange ambassadors with the US.
But other Polish-American leaders voice concern that if the President does not keep his promise, General Jaruzelski will be in political jeopardy and Poland might end up with an even more repressive regime.
Polish hard-liners within the government are thought to have planned the recent murder of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish Roman Catholic priest, in an effort to incite public unrest and undermine Jaruzelski.
But the Polish general's swift move to track down and indict individuals has kept the Polish people calm and created a measure of public understanding for Jaruzelski.
Aloysius A. Mazewski, president of the Chicago-based Polish-American Congress , says a consensus will be sought among Polish-American leaders in the next few days.
While the congress has favored lifting the US ban on Poland's IMF admission, Mr. Mazewski says, the Popieluszko affair has introduced a new consideration and may call for holding off any US action until it can be seen that the murderers are brought to justice.
Yet Mazewski also sees dangers for Jaruzelski and expresses concern that ''someone could be put in who is even worse.''
Western diplomatic experts suggest that the US should make a gesture toward Poland and ensure that Poland will retain strong ties with the West, despite its status in the communist Soviet bloc.
''We will not help liberalize Poland internally by continuing sanctions or getting rid of the Jaruzelski government,'' says William Schaufele Jr., a former US ambassador to Warsaw. ''On the contrary, the longer we keep the sanctions, the more the hard-liners will be strengthened.''
Today marks the third anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland, after the massive Solidarity free-trade union grew into a popular mass movement for far-reaching political reform. Mr. Nowak says Jaruzelski has now made a number of significant concessions, including lifting martial law, releasing some 650 political prisoners, and permitting a visit by Pope John Paul II to Poland.
Nowak and other Polish-American leaders see an all-out political struggle under way in Poland. Jaruzelski is in deep trouble because of party hard-liners, they believe, and lifting of the IMF sanction could serve to strengthen his position at a Communist Party plenary session this month.
Washington imposed economic sanctions after martial law was declared in Poland in 1981. After Jaruzelski announced an amnesty program, the US removed some of its sanctions but several remain, including withdrawal of Poland's most-favored-nation tariff status, denial of US government credits, and objection to Poland's membership in the IMF.
Lifting of the IMF stricture would be especially important for Poland. If it were accepted into the organization, it would be able to apply for international loans to finance its huge foreign debt.
From the standpoint of the West, diplomatic analysts say, IMF loans would impose financial requirements and economic discipline on the Jaruzelski government, thereby contributing to a more efficient Polish economy and better prospects for the Polish people.
State Department officials favor withdrawing US objections to Poland joining the IMF, especially in light of the President's open pledge to do so. But there are some conservatives in the administration who are said to want Reagan to hold a tough line on Poland as he tries to improve relations with Moscow.
The determination will be a political one, say US officials, and the President will have to make it.
Chart: History of US sanctions against Poland
1981 Dec. 13: Martial law is declared in Poland.
Dec. 23: US imposes economic sanctions against Poland.
1982 Dec. 15: Poland restricts cultural and scientific ties to US and
limits visas for Americans.
Dec. 31: Martial law is declared suspended, but many restrictions
1983 July 21: Lifting of martial law is completed.
July 26: Poland announces amnesty for 182 political prisoners.
Nov. 3: Western nations agree to rescheduling of Poland's foreign
1984 Jan. 19: US restores Poland's suspended fishing rights and
charter flights to US.
July 21: Poland releases 652 political prisoners under amnesty
Aug. 3: US allows resumption of regular flights from Poland to US
cultural and scientific exchanges.
Dec. 8: Poland releases two key political prisoners.