ONE of the questions most frequently asked of a visitor to Poland is: What can be done to improve relations between the United States and Poland? The answer is not easy. General Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law on Poland on Dec. 13, 1981, profoundly shocked the American as well as the Polish people. President Reagan's response -- to apply limited sanctions -- was widely supported then, both by the American people and by the independent Solidarity trade union and its Polish supporters. The polemics that followed the President's action and in which both sides have engaged ever since represent a major obstacle to the improvement of relations.
During the 1970s there was some reduction in ideological polemics on both sides and a major effort to improve relations on a mutually profitable basis. Educational, cultural, and scientific exchanges flourished. The volume of bilateral trade expanded, financial and credit ties increased, and Poland's agricultural policy led to the purchase of sizable quantities of American farm products. The Polish government in the 1970s showed sensitivity to rising US concern for human rights.
With the Poles, the US joined in sponsoring periodic ``round table'' conferences to exchange views among academic, political, parliamentary, and news media representatives on the state of the world and our relations. US political leaders, including Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, visited Warsaw to underscore the importance the US attached to Poland's role in Europe and beyond.
The crisis of 1980-81 showed that the divided Polish Communist Party leadership could not cope politically with the views and activities of Solidarity. To maintain unquestioned political supremacy, the government used force to suppress the union.
Years of progress in US-Polish relations were virtually wiped out as both sides resorted to an essentially vapid exchange of polemics.
What can be done now to improve relations?
Although the United States removed some lesser sanctions in 1984 after Poland lifted martial law and released most political prisoners, the Poles want the US to withdraw the ban on US government-guaranteed credits and to restore most-favored-nation trade status.