Step by step, the United States is moving toward a reconciliation with Poland. The State Department said Monday that the US has lifted its objection to Polish membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The move comes in response to Poland's recent release of two leading activists of the banned Solidarity trade-union movement.
IMF officials say it will take at least three months before the Polish application is approved. Poland would then become the fifth communist member of the international organization, which now includes Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and China.
Membership in the IMF is important to Poland to help ease its $34 billion foreign debt. IMF standing would enable it to apply for international loans and resume its borrowing in Western financial markets. But any eventual IMF loans are likely to entail stringent financial conditions and economic belt-tightening.
Even as the administration was preparing to announce removal of its sanction, the Polish government provoked further popular criticism by cracking down on demonstrators in Gdansk and Wroclaw. Riot police on Sunday prevented Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and several thousand supporters in Gdansk from laying a wreath at a workers' monument, something officials had not stopped in previous years. Police also barred some 5,000 people in Wroclaw from laying flowers at the grave of a man killed in a police clash.
American officials say it is strange that the Jaruzelski regime would have engaged in such actions just as the US was making another political gesture. But analysts in and out of government view the latest events in the context of a continuing and intricate power struggle in Poland between leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and Communist Party hard-liners who would like to unseat him.
''Jaruzelski has to make a show of great strength to placate the hard-line elements,'' says Jan Nowak, a national director of the Polish-American Congress. ''But the crackdown was not all that rough because they did release the two Solidarity leaders they detained. No one was killed and there not many arrests.''
With the Polish Communist Central Committee about to hold a plenum, Mr. Nowak says, General Jaruzelski is under special pressure to show his toughness. The meeting comes after the Polish leader tracked down and indicted four secret-police officers on charges of killing pro-Solidarity Roman Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszko. Government hard-liners are thought to have planned the murder to undermine Jaruzelski.
State Department officials also suggest that political pressures lay behind the police crackdown in Gdansk and Wroclaw.
''Jaruzelski's between a rock and a hard place,'' says one analyst. ''You see ambivalent signs as he plays both sides of the street. He has the hard-liners to deal with, but he can't be too viscous. So he goes back and forth.''
Poland, which withdrew from the IMF in 1950, applied to rejoin the 148-member organization in November 1981. But the US blocked its application as part of an array of economic sanctions after Jaruzelski declared martial law in December 1981.
As the Polish leader has taken to steps to liberalize conditions, including ending military rule, President Reagan has responded by gradually dismantling the US sanctions, a carrot-and-stick approach widely supported by the Polish-American community. After Warsaw freed the remaining two Solidarity leaders, the administration moved to carry out the President's pledge that he would withdraw the ban on IMF membership once Poland's amnesty program was reasonably completed.
Critical of the Jaruzelski regime but concerned that it could be replaced by a harsher government if the hard-liners prevailed, leaders of the Polish-American Congress, an umbrella organization, last week urged Mr. Reagan to remove the IMF ban. They favor retention of two remaining sanctions - a ban on new government-guaranteed credits and most-favored-nation trade status - until Poland introduces more trade-union pluralism.