The Reagan administration is reserving judgment on a $5 billion aid program for Poland brought up by West German officials this week during the visit of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, but is actively considering a new infusion of American food for the Polish people.
State Department sources said the visitors advanced the $5 billion estimate of Poland's needs in new aid from the West during 1982 without providing detailed data about how it might be used or who would supply it.
The United States and Germany have taken a stand against supplying more official economic assistance while repression continues in Poland. But German officials, saying that new aid question is central to future developments, are more eager to discuss a future program than are their U.S. counterparts.
The Reagan administration, like the Carter administration, shied away from serious consideration of Polish requests for large-scale official aid before the Dec. 13 martial law crackdown. U.S. sources said a major American aid program probably would be more difficult for Washington after the crackdown, both for political and domestic economic reasons.
President Reagan, in announcing U.S. sanctions against Poland Dec. 23, pledged to "gladly do our share to help the shattered Polish economy" if the Polish government returns to the Gdansk agreement creating Solidarity and observes other basic human rights. Reagan did not elaborate.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, speaking Wednesday in Stuttgart after returning from talks in Washington, said Germany would be prepared "to render financial assistance in a comprehensive way," in concert with other allies, to "a Poland which returns to the way of reform and renewal." No figures were cited in reports of Genscher's address reaching Washington.
Humanitarian aid to the Polish people through the Roman Catholic Church and private relief organizations such as CARE continues to flow, and State Department officials said there is active consideration of increasing the size of U.S. governmental assistance to such shipments.
A chartered freighter left New Orleans for Poland Sunday with 5 million pounds of U.S.-financed rice, flour and cooking oil supplied to Catholic Relief Services. This was the first installment in a $30 million humanitarian aid program authorized before martial law was declared.
How much more U.S. aid will be authorized for delivery through church and humanitarian circles will depend in large part on the capacity of the system to deliver it directly to the Polish people, according to U.S. officials.
A Catholic Relief Services coordinator, Rev. Terrence Mulkerin of Brooklyn, is en route to Poland to study the needs and the capacity of the relief system, according to CRS.
The Polish debt to western commercial banks of about $16 billion and to western governments of about $10 billion is a factor of potentially great importance to that country's economic future, but few decisions on debt questions have been made in the West in the weeks since the martial-law crackdown.
According to internal State Department memoranda quoted in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. was advised Dec. 17, four days after martial law, to ask American banks through the Treasury Department to continue their "eyeball-to-eyeball negotiation" with Polish authorities.
The recommendation from Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Robert D. Hormats, according to the account, was made to maximize U.S. economic leverage on Poland.
The article went on to say that Hormats reversed himself the following day because such U.S. advice at that point "would probably send the wrong political signal." Instead, Hormats recommended that "the best course of action with the banks is simply to say nothing to them on the question of rescheduling."
A New York banker who has played an important role in the Polish debt discussions said in a telephone interview that "the government doesn't know what to do . . . . They're asking us the banks what they should do."
Most of the Washington discussion in recent weeks has concentrated on U.S. and allied sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union, rather than future assistance.
State Department spokesman Dean Fischer reiterated yesterday that the United States "has not softened its stance" on the need for the western allies to take parallel steps to back up Washington's actions. $200,000 Fund Is Established