The Reagan administration is actively considering additional economic assistance to the trouble-plagued and debt-ridden communist governmemt in Poland, a State Department spokesman said yesterday.
Aside from any unilateral American action, it was learned from other highranking administration officials, the United States will meet with its West European allies in Paris this month to discuss Warsaw's dire financial condition. As a result of that session, the sources said, some favorite joint consideration might be given to such things as rescheduling a portion of Poland's already staggering $25 billion debt to the West.
The administration's strong reiteration that aid to Poland is being considered came in an ususual statement issued in early evening to clarify spokesman William Dyess' assertion earlier yesterday that for the time being further economic assistance to Poland had been ruled out.
"Poland has asked the U.S. government for additional economic assistance," the second statement said, "and we continue to examine that request. Notwithstanding the underlying need for economic reforms essential to the long-term solution of Poland's problems, we feel . . . a very important and sensitive sympathy for the people of Poland and their current plight, and we are considering what further steps could be taken."
Yesterday's confusion over the American position reflects the new administration's difficulty in finding ways to deal with a fast-moving crisis. Poland's economic woes are feeding the labor unrest which, in turn, has produced a sharp challenge to communist party authority and the possibility of Soviet military intervention.
The Reagan administration, on the one hand, appears to be trying to convince Warsaw that it must make economic reforms before it can expect additional help from the West. Yet other officials acknowledge that some help may be necessary more quickly, to buy at least a little more time for the government to try and get the political turmoil under control.
Spokesman Dyess also said yesterday that the United States does not consider Soviet intervention in Poland "imminent, inevitable or justifiable," though Moscow has had several hundred thousand troops ringing Poland since last December.
When asked what the U.S. reaction would be if the Polish government felt it necessary to use its own troops to put down labor unrest, Dyess said, "If Polish authorities used Polish forces to carry out Polish laws, we'd consider that to be a Polish matter."
This statement also was later corrected by the State Department. "With regard to questions of possible use of Polish forces in the current situation," the clarification said, "we cannot be indifferent to such a development, and in no way did the State Department intend to suggest that such a development would not be a matter of very great concern, given our strong humanitarian interest in the welfare of the Polish people and nation."
Dyess' remarks, even as corrected underlined another important policy decision that could be faced soon by the administration if the Warsaw government itself cracked down. The tone of his answers suggested the United States would react with restraint in that case. The later statement indicated that Washington would be unhappy with the use of force but implied no threat as to the American response.
Many U.S. analysts believe that the Polish crisis, despite perhaps some temporary relief with the naming of a new premier on Monday, is spinning out of control for the communist authorities and will eventually produce an explosion that brings on Soviet intervention.
Some of those analysts also believe that, before the situation becomes completely untenable, the Warsaw government will move toward use of its own militia or military to restore order, though ideally without shooting. This would involve perhaps martial law, curfews and some military manning of factories shut down by strikes.
While such actions would be grim, they could possibly forestall an even worse solution -- Soviet military intervention.
Thorough Poland's new premier, Wojciech Jaruzelski, is viewed as a moderate, he is also an army general and former defense minister and some analysts believe his appointment may be the first step toward an internal crackdown.
The public U.S. position on economic aid was initially laid out by Dyess when asked by reporters about the status of an administration review of a Polish request for some $3 billion more in aid and credit dating back to the final months of the Carter administration.
Dyess said an inter-agency group had looked at this and "our feeling is that what's needed most of all in Poland is internal economic reform. The Poles know this," he said, indicating that until the Warsaw government itself takes actions that show it is "serious" about improving the economic situation, the Reagan administration is unlikely to pump in more money. While the spokesman's characterization of the administration attitude was thought to be generally correct, he apparently misstated the fact that assistance is a continuing possibility.
Among the possibilities are such things as debt rescheduling and additional credits for grain purchases beyond the existing $670 million.
About one-third of Poland's debt to the West is owned to governments and the rest to banks. The problem is that Poland continues to run a big trade deficit every year and now is in the position where it must borrow perhaps $10 billion to $12 billion annually just to pay the interest on outstanding loans and to reschedule, or defer, the roughly one-third of its debt that comes due each year.
Officials here say it is clear that Warsaw would not be able to undertake any basic economic reform until after the 26th Soviet Communist Party Congress opening Moscow Feb. 23, at which the Polish party officials will met with leaders of the other Warsaw Pact countries.
Whether Moscow would allow any major changes is also very much in doubt. The State Department has been careful not to say publicly what kind of economic reforms Poland needs. But it is widely believed in the West that the Warsaw government would have to take a number of reform measures: decentralize its management of the economy, give greater support to private farmers as the most efficient producers, increase prices for basic foods and services, improve working conditions, and introduce at least a measure of the kind of economic freedom for industry that exists in neighboring communist Hungary. Some Hungarian factory managers can operate on the profit motive rather than being tried solely to fulfillment of a pre-determined government plan.
Most importantly, one official says "they will have to come up with reforms that grip the imagination of the disenchanted in Poland," a task which few believe is possible and which, if tried, could set off demands for more liberalization in East Germany and Czechoslovakia.