Two weeks after worker unrest in Poland reached crisis proportions, the Carter administration continues to stay discreetly on the sidelines in hope that the Soviet Union and other countries will do the same.
The U.S. line, laid down by Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie last week and since repeated almost daily by the State Department officials, is that Poland's internal problems are "for the polish people and the Polish government to settle, and that all outside parties should exercise the greatest restraint."
The aim, U.S. officials say, is to signal Moscow and other capitals that the United States has no intention of trying to exploit turmoil within the communist bloc and hopes that the Soviets also will resist any pressures to intervene in Poland's affairs.
Underlying this approach is concern that the trouble in Poland will escalate to the point where it is perceived by Moscow as threatening the balance of power between East and West in Europe. Should the Soviets feel compelled to stage a show of force, U.S. officials fear that the resulting East-West tensions would approximate the worst days of the Cold War.
But, while the administration does not want that to happen, U.S. officials point out that there is nothing Washington can do except watch, say as little as possible and, when and where the opportunity arises, give discreet encouragement to any individuals or intiatives that might foster a moderate solution to the polish situation.
In general, this policy has met with accord from America's West European allies and has even sparked discreet expressions of gratitude from Polish authorities. The only rumbles of disagreement have come from the strongly anti-communist Polish-American community and from some scattered press suggestions that the State Department is being a bit too laid back in responding to the crisis.
In what was almost a "silly season" footnote, State officials were embarrassed earlier this week when a spokesman told reporters that Rozanne L. Ridgway, department counselor, was supervising the monitoring of the situation, only to find that she was on a week's vacation.
Similarly, George S. Vest, assistant secretary for European affairs and the other senior official who normally would be charged with day-to-day overseeing of the Polish developments, is on vacation.
That left the surface impression that the crisis is being handled in casual fashion by relatively low-ranking officers.
Actually, department officials said because the U.S. posture is one of watching and waiting, there is no need now to disrupt vacation schedules and keep people at their desks round-the-clock. Events in Poland are being watched closely, they insisted, and all responsible officials from Muskie on down are fully abreast of the situation.
An even bigger flap -- one that reportedly set off tremors in State and at the White House -- occurred Wednesday when the Chicago Tribune, in a page-one article, quoted an unnamed department spokesman as saying that proposals given to Ridgway by a Polish-American organization were "preposterous."
The department's chief spokesman, John Trattner, rushed out with a statment, ordered by Muskie, disavowing the comment and stressing the value that the administration places on dialogue with Polish-American groups. The statement promised that the proposals by the Polish-American Congress would be given serious consideration.
Members of the congress, which claims to represent 12 million Americans of Polish descent, on Monday gave Ridgway a memorandum criticizing U.S. policy for showing too much concern about not giving the Soviet Union a pretext for military intervention in Poland.
The memorandum asserts that the "Soviet Union does not need a pretext to intervene militarily," and calls for a more assertive U.S. approach that would help Poland surmount its economic difficulties through such aid as increasing its grain credits, rescheduling its foreign debt, instituting an emergency food program and doubling Poland's fishing quota in Alaskan waters. e
The administration's haste in disassociating itself from charges that it considers these proposals "preposterous" underscored how anxious it is to tread gingerly around the Polish American community. But several officials said privately that, while President Carter obviously does not want to offend or alienate Polish-Americans, it is premature to talk about increased aid for Poland.
Poland's ambassador here, Romauld Spasowski, met with U.S. officials this week to request that his country's credits for purchase of American grain and other foodstuffs be increased from $550 million now to $670 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Administration sources said the request will be given serious consideration, along with other possible economic aid measures that might help contribute to a peaceful resolution of the confrontation in Poland.
But, these sources added, it will be necessary first to see whether the crisis can be solved without violence or outside interference, whether the Polish government will survive or be replaced and, in the event the Poles do resolve their differences, what kind of aid they will need and how much of it the United States can reasonably provide.