restricted access 5. Very Good and Getting Better: Reengagement and Reinforcement, September 1986 to February 1988
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165 c h a p t e r f i v e Very Good and Getting Better Reengagement and Reinforcement, September 1986 to February 1988 On January 28, 1987, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead’s plane landed on the tarmac at Okęcie Airport. He was arriving as an “authoritative ” member of the Reagan administration, the highest-level visitor since 1981. Whitehead traveled to Warsaw to meet with leaders from three key constituencies, including Jaruzelski, Glemp, and Wałęsa. When he stepped off the plane, Whitehead was greeted by Jan Kinast who told him that Wałęsa would be unable to travel to Warsaw for a meeting because he had already taken all of his vacation days from his electrician’s job at the Gdańsk shipyards . Whitehead was surprised and upset. In the spur of the moment, he took a gamble: if Wałęsa could not come to him, then Whitehead would fly to Gdańsk instead of meeting with Jaruzelski. By the time the deputy secretary arrived at his hotel room, the government had reversed its position and told Whitehead that Kinast had been misunderstood. Wałęsa would be in Warsaw as scheduled.1 After the complete amnesty in September 1986, the United States followed a cautious policy to reengage with the Polish government. Over a series of high-level meetings and negotiations, culminating in Vice President George Bush’s visit in September 1987, Washington moved methodically to lift all remaining sanctions and then normalize economic and political relations . By Whitehead’s second visit in January 1988, bilateral relations had experienced nearly eighteen months of improvement and trust building. During this same period, however, the United States did not neglect the opposition . Congress, NGOs, and NED took ever bolder moves to ensure that American money to Solidarność increased as the opposition played an ever greater role in public life. American humanitarian aid decreased, but events in these years showed how aid policy amplified American soft power, with positive results. Overall, the period from September 1986 to February 1988 was remarkably cordial compared to the previous five years, with bilateral 166 very good and getting better relations turning toward a new direction and with long-term policies to support the opposition bearing fruit. To Vienna The White House reacted guardedly to PZPR statements in September 1986 that the amnesty would apply to all political prisoners. On September 12, White House spokesman Larry Speakes explained cautiously, “We hope that this is a genuine and complete amnesty. . . . We will be monitoring the release closely to see that the government of Poland keeps its commitments.” The State Department spoke in equally restrained terms, restating the administration ’s long-standing position, “If the Polish government takes meaningful liberalizing measures, we are prepared to take equally significant and concrete steps of our own.”2 In private Assistant Secretary of State Rozanne Ridgway told Ludwiczak that they were pleased but were waiting to see how the amnesty was implemented and how it affected dialogue within Poland.3 In a further sign of prudence, Shultz did not meet with Foreign Minister Orzechowski during the Forty-First Opening Session of the U.N. General Assembly.4 In Warsaw, the MSZ regarded the American response as “very qualified [bardzo powściągliwa].”5 Public voices, especially from Capitol Hill, pressured the White House to drop all remaining sanctions. Even before all the political prisoners were freed, thirty-three members of Congress from both political parties led by the Democratic Representative Bill Lipinski from Chicago sent a letter to the president calling for an end to sanctions.6 Democratic Representatives Steven Solarz (who had just returned from a trip to Poland) and Dante Fascell, along with Republican congressman Frank Murkowski, held a widely covered press conference calling for the United States to “move quickly” to reinstate MFN and government guaranteed credits because “a failure to respond positively to Warsaw’s initiative would forfeit our best chance of exerting influence on the course of events.”7 Similarly, the PAC National Board of Directors resolved that, if all political prisoners were released, sanctions should be lifted and a “more flexible position in regard to guaranteed bank credits” be pursued.8 Nowak and PAC president Mazewski joined Solarz’s press conference and linked lifting sanctions with maintaining leverage. In Nowak’s words, “If [the Polish leadership’s] hopes do not materialize, there is a likelihood of retrogression. . . . [A] carrot offered by the U.S. can...


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