The Reagan administration yesterday continued to respond cautiously in word and deed to the military takeover in Poland, but many officials privately expressed concern that rising tension there and suspicion about Soviet intentions could deepen the crisis.
President Reagan, who discussed the situation with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, reiterated that "intervention by the Soviet Union would be taken most seriously by all the free world." He also said that Soviet expressions of support for the crackdown led by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski "sound more like intervention than anything we're saying."
But, in response to questions about whether Jaruzelski was acting under Soviet pressure, the president replied: "It would be unwise to just make a supposition. We'll wait until we know more."
The same wary tone was evident in the statements, both public and private, of other administration officials. They stressed the line, laid down Monday, that there still is insufficient information about the internal Polish situation to make hard-and-fast judgments, and that the United States, for the time being, must avoid taking positions that could provoke violence or give the impression of acquiescing in suppression of the Polish reform movement.
But, while there was a reluctance to say so flatly, a sense of pessimism seemed increasingly evident among U.S. officials dealing with the situation. As scattered reports from Poland sketched a picture of growing worker resistance and escalating arrests of dissident leaders by the military, concern appeared to be rising about the possibility of clashes that might become violent.
If that happened, there would be a greater threat of Soviet intervention, either through use of its forces or Moscow speaking out more openly about what it wants done in Poland. That, in turn, would increase the likelihood of a major confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West.
Speculation about Soviet manipulation of the crackdown was underscored by reports that Marshal Victor Kulikov, the Soviet commander of the Warsaw Pact, arrived in Poland before the weekend imposition of martial law and has remained there in a behind-the-scenes role. State Department spokesman Dean Fischer refused yesterday to comment about the reports of Kulikov's presence.
However, other U.S. sources, while declining to discuss Kulikov specifically, pointed out that the Soviets' influence within the Polish military and governmental structures is so pervasive and their monitoring of Polish affairs so thorough that it is doubtful the crackdown could have taken place without Moscow's knowledge and approval.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., although stressing that there is no evidence of overt Soviet interference, also has pointed out that "clearly the Soviets have the capability to watch carefully--and more carefully than we do--internal developments as they evolve."
But, while these concerns are becoming more evident among U.S. officials, the administration is sticking with its course of not articulating them publicly, because its information is still too sparse to reach definitive conclusions and because of a desire not to get out ahead of the similarly cautious approach of America's West European allies.
The State Department did protest to the Polish government yesterday after security forces appeared around the U.S. embassy and consulates in that country. The message said the United States "will not tolerate any interference with consular access . . . . "
In addition to stationing security police around the clock at western missions, the Polish government announced that diplomats will not be allowed to leave the cities in which they are stationed.
As the watching and waiting continued, Polish Ambassador Romuald Spasowski conferred with State Department officials for the third straight day and reportedly urged the administration to release $100 million in credits for Polish purchases of food grain--credits that were approved by the National Security Council just before the weekend events in Poland and were then put on hold as part of a decision to suspend all U.S. aid not already in the pipeline until the situation becomes clearer.
Spasowski told reporters that holding up his country's pending requests would not have an impact on Poland's already severe food shortages for several months. But he added: "I know there is a great scarcity of foodstuffs in Poland, and it is very essential for the Polish people to receive this help . . . . It is very bad, very bad there."
U.S. food aid to Poland totals approximately $765 million, most of it in Commodity Credit Corporation credit guarantees for commercial sales of agricultural products. The $100 million new authorization now being held up was part of a Polish request for $200 million that the Warsaw government wanted to boost its domestic meat production after it receives the last of 360,000 tons of corn it purchased from the United States last summer for livestock feeding.
In another action related to the crisis, the Senate yesterday reaffirmed its support of legislation calling for a total embargo on exports to the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries if the Soviets intervene in Poland. The Senate did this by voting, 67 to 27, for a compromise measure worked out by House and Senate conferees on a bill providing funds to administer export controls.
Agriculture Secretary John R. Block, who fought successfully to lift the grain embargo imposed on the Soviets by President Carter after the invasion of Afghanistan, said yesterday he "probably" would recommend a new embargo if the Soviets go into Poland. He added, though: "I'm not going to say even that now because we're not prepared to telegraph any of our punches."
The Senate last night passed, 95 to 0, a resolution deploring the imposition of martial law in Poland, and said the recent events there "call into question the suitability of the further provision of assistance" to that country's government.