THE SENSE spreads that the West's sanctions against Poland belong mostly to the past. The regime has met some of the West's conditions, it is argued, formally ending martial law and releasing many prisoners, but it is not about to license a Solidarity-like trade union again. The pope has accepted a broad dialogue with Warsaw and is undertaking to funnel private Western aid to private Polish farms, leaving the Western nations in the position of being "more Catholic than the pope"--a Polish pope. While the United States bars Polish airliners and (in a direct blow at the Polish people's diet) Polish fishing boats, the Reagan administration has just agreed to expand grain sales to the Soviet Union, the source of Poland's grief.
Although sanctions remain in force, in the most important economic area movement is under way. The ending of martial law cleared the atmosphere enough to permit Poland's Western creditor governments to agree in principle to resume talks on rescheduling the country's huge official debt. In these talks lies the Poles' best chance to win access to credits for vitally needed spare parts and raw materials. The West has its own economic reasons to see the debts rescheduled; it has never considered rescheduling strictly as a favor to Warsaw.
The West went up the roller coaster with Solidarity and came down with martial law. By this emotional route Western governments came to pin their policy to ambitious and currently unachievable expectations for post-martial-law Polish renewal. Little thought was given to setting policy toward Warsaw in the overall context of East-West relations. This is what underlies the anomalous situation of the West's now treating Poland worse than it treats the Soviet Union. Poland has the worst of both worlds: political restrictions from the East, economic restrictions from the West. Inevitably, the economic restrictions, though aimed at the Polish government, touch the lives of the Polish people, in whose behalf the West means to act.
The sanctions are likely gradually to come down. It is important, however, that a business-as-usual spirit not be permitted to prevail. The goal of renewal to which the sanctions were dedicated is no less worthy for being hard to reach. The laws that the regime has substituted for martial law are ugly and repressive. President Reagan is right to stress that the regime must free all pol- itical detainees and people accused of martial- law crimes. An open dialogue with the workers is the only way the regime can begin to earn legitimacy.