Poland's relaxation of martial law falls far short of steps required to lift U.S. sanctions imposed on that nation, administration officials told Congress yesterday, even though the United States is reserving formal judgment on the Polish move until a joint evaluation by the Atlantic Alliance.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said, "We will evaluate the statement by the Polish government after we consult with allies before we offer any further interpretations of it."
The allies agreed privately and in advance on that position. It was intended to head off further division on the fate of the tougher U.S. sanctions tied to Poland's resorting to martial law last December.
The Reagan administration is deeply at odds with its allies over a ban on U.S.-licensed equipment for a natural gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe.
At the same time, administration officials told a House appropriations subcommittee that there is insufficient evidence that repression has been relaxed in Poland to warrant an end to sanctions.
"We really have to see what the actions mean," said Marc E. Leland, an assistant secretary of the treasury. But Leland added, "We know what we are looking for, and so far it is not there."
Speaking for the State Department, Ambassador Charles F. Meissner, a specialist on East-West economic affairs, stressed, as did Speakes at the White House, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization laid down three conditions for lifting the Polish-related sanctions: "Releasing the political detainees, ending martial law and reopening a meaningful dialogue with the church and with Solidarity," the suppressed, independent Polish trade union.
Meissner's prepared statement, drafted before the announcement about relaxation of martial law, said: "Unfortunately, we have seen little indication thus far that the Polish government is prepared to make meaningful steps either toward reconciliation or toward reinvigorating its faltering economy."
Nothing but criticism of Poland's continuing rule came in the House subcommittee hearing.
David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who closely follows events in Poland, said he was "greatly disappointed" by the statement of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski on relaxation of martial law. Obey said Jaruzelski "has missed an opportunity to establish a more constructive relationship between the United States and his country . . . . "
Many other subcommittee members, notably Chairman Clarence D. Long (D-Md.) and all of the Republicans present, criticized the administration for failing to be even tougher in its demands on Poland and the Soviet Union.
Zdzislaw Rurarz, Poland's former ambassador to Japan, who defected when martial law was declared last December, scoffed at the concessions announced in Warsaw yesterday. "Without democratization, without real dialogue, nothing will be settled in Poland," he told the panel.
For several weeks, there has been widespread speculation in East and West on whether Poland's Communist rulers could isolate the United States by lifting military rule enough to satisfy Western Europe but not the administration.
To that extent, administration officials appeared relieved yesterday that the United States was not left in a more difficult position by Jaruzelski's announcement.
West Germany, however, responded more approvingly to the Polish decision, with government spokesman Lothar Ruehl labeling the announcement a "step in the right direction."
In contrast to the eagerness of many Western European nations to restore normal relations with Poland, U.S. officials testified that economic penalties on Poland are serving their purpose.
"Allied sanctions toward Poland have been highly effective in maintaining economic pressure on both the government of Poland and the Soviet leadership," Meissner testified.
"With no new Western credits going to Poland and with Poland being pressed to repay its debt," he said, "there is a net financial flow from Poland to the West, and the Soviets have been obliged to transfer significant amounts of real resources to Poland to prevent further economic deterioration."
Poland's debt to the West at the end of 1981 was $26 billion, Treasury's Leland said, compared to a Soviet indebtedness to the West of $21 billion.
Administration witnesses again resisted congressional demands to declare Poland in default on its debts on grounds that a default would gain nothing for the West and instead would produce greater allied discord. "Anything we do unilaterally," Leland said, "is not effective."