WARSAW — Vice President George Bush arrived in Poland on Saturday, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit this troubled Communist country in 10 years.
The vice president's journey signals a major thaw in the distinctly chilly relations between the United States and Poland that have existed since the declaration of martial law in December, 1981, and the suppression of the independent trade union Solidarity.
"Despite past problems between our governments, the bonds between our people remain as strong as ever," Bush said in a brief statement on his arrival at a military airport in Warsaw.
"I am here in the hope that we can find a solid basis for creating the same kind of relations between our two governments," Bush said.
"I want to make it clear that our intention is not to disrupt or divide, nor is it to interfere." Bush said. "We seek only to play a constructive role in bringing about the national reconciliation that everyone in Poland desires and to promote the cause of freedom."
Bush met briefly with Poland's leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, extending what was scheduled as a "courtesy call" into a conversation lasting almost 30 minutes. He is scheduled to meet Jaruzelski again at a luncheon session today.
A senior official in the vice president's party said the meeting between Bush and Jaruzelski "went on in a good spirit, without polemics, and very straight-forward." The spokesman said the two officials set an agenda for their later discussions that focused primarily on economic issues.
The Polish leadership, struggling with severe economic problems and a $35-billion foreign debt, are hoping to enlist American support for standby credits from the International Monetary Fund, negotiations for which have been stalled for some months. The authorities here also hope that a "normalization" in relations with the United States will help loosen Western credit sources, which were largely closed to Poland during the martial-law years.
Bush is also to meet today with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and other activists of the banned trade union. Walesa and other key figures in Solidarity were said to be meeting in Warsaw late Saturday. They have generally avoided comment to the press in recent days, and there are indications that there is some disarray in their ranks.
Bush has emphasized that his trip will include visits with a wide cross-section of Polish society, including opposition figures.
The trip also has an American political element, since Bush is planning to formally announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next month.
A film crew is following the vice president on most of his stops, recording his meetings with Polish government and opposition leaders. The crew will continue on the rest of the Bush journey to Bonn, Paris, London and Brussels, and the footage is likely to show up in Bush political advertisements as the campaign gets under way.
Bush kept a busy schedule Saturday. He laid memorial wreathes at a Polish war memorial in central Warsaw and at the monument for the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. He also met with Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Roman Catholic primate of Poland, and with a group of Catholic intellectuals who are advocates of a major reform of the Polish political and economic system.
One of the participants in the latter meeting, Prof. Klemens Szaniawski of Warsaw University, an adviser to Solidarity, said he hopes that the vice president would come away from the meeting with an appreciation of "the relationship between the terrible economic situation and the political situation" in Poland.
"We cannot get out of the basic economic situation without the cooperation of the people and their willingness to accept sacrifices," he said. "But these sacrifices will not be willingly made without some feeling that they will lead to a lasting solution, and that means significant political change."
The crowds that gathered around the public events in Warsaw on Saturday were not large, but they responded warmly to the vice president. A few small American flags were waved by the crowds. As he departed from the wreath-laying ceremony at the Warsaw ghetto monument, Bush approached the crowd barrier and shook hands with several Poles who waved at him enthusiastically.