The United States hopes to win substantial backing for its economic sanctions against Poland at an expected meeting of NATO's foreign ministers next week, administration officials said yesterday.
Lawrence Eagleburger, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said yesterday that the western European nations will "by and large move in our direction." But Eagleburger stopped short of predicting that the Europeans would endorse "every single jot and tittle" of the U.S. sanctions against the governments of Poland and the Soviet Union.
In comments taped yesterday for Cable News Network's "Newsmaker Sunday" show Eagleburger said that North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials are considering a meeting soon to discuss the crisis in Poland. A senior administration official later confirmed that the United States had proposed and received general acceptance of such a meeting. The date is not firm, but is expected to be either Jan. 11 or Jan. 15.
Eagleburger also raised the possibility that what happens in Poland in the coming weeks could cause the United States to pull out of the Geneva negotiations with the Soviets on limiting nuclear weapons in Europe. The administration has said that it intends to go ahead with the talks, which are to reopen in mid-January.
President Reagan will discuss the Polish crisis Tuesday with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, whose government has expressed doubts that applying sanctions against the Soviets is the best way to deal with the crisis in Poland. The West German government has questioned the degree to which the Soviets have been behind the crackdown in Poland.
Eagleburger said that the Europeans have moved in recent weeks to toughen their stance against the Polish government and, to a lesser degree, against the Soviets. And he predicted that they will move much closer to the U.S. view in the next couple of weeks.
He said America's European allies have been moved to toughen their stance because of "push-pull" pressures. The push, he said, has come from European public opinion, which has increasingly favored a tougher stance against the Soviets and the Polish government. The pull, he said, has been from Reagan's lead in declaring economic sanctions.
So far, the response from Britain has been strong condemnation of the military crackdown in Poland, but uncertainty on what should be done about it. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher failed in her attempt to coordinate a positive European response to the U.S. sanctions.
Foreign ministers from 10 Common Market countries will meet in Brussels Monday. Eagleburger said he expects they will affirm the position of their political directors that there should be no further aid to the government of Poland until the crisis there clears and that humanitarian assistance to Poland will be made only if there are guarantees that the aid will be received by the Polish people.
Eagleburger said that he also believes that the negotiations with the Soviets in Geneva on limiting nuclear weapons in Europe should continue--"at least for now"--even as the United States is applying sanctions against the Soviets.
"Under present circumstances, those talks should continue," he said. But he added: "I can conceive of circumstances in Poland that would mean that it would be unwise to proceed." Among those circumstances, he said, would be a Soviet military intervention in Poland.
Eagleburger said he did not believe that a program of large-scale U.S. aid to Poland in past months would have forestalled the crackdown there. He said $700 million in aid was sent to Poland by the United States in 1981.
"In the last analysis, what drove the Polish government . . . to take the steps it took on the 13th of December had little to do with the economic situation in Poland, and a great deal to do with their seeing the Communist party losing all authority, Solidarity becoming a major popular force in Poland, and the possibility of a major change of the whole political structure in Poland.
" . . . Money, I don't care how much, would not have changed the fact that reform was going on in Poland."
The Communist Party in Poland is "in great disrepair," Eagleburger said. He said it was not clear whether the party would gain in strength or remain severely damaged when the crisis is finally resolved.
He also said that passive resistence such as worker slowdowns and strikes have sharply curtailed productivity in Poland and that the economic situation there is "merging on disaster."
Eagleburger conceded that the United States and its allies were not prepared to respond in a coordinated manner to the imposition of martial law in Poland--but that was not because the western officials did not see the possibility of such a crackdown, he said.
"The NATO officials had worked out a series of steps that might have been taken in the event of a Soviet invasion of Poland," he said, but "we got something less than that."
He added: " . . . We recognized this crackdown by the Polish military was a possible scenario." But the allies "found it impossible" to reach agreement on what should be done in the event of such action by the Polish military.