President Lech Walesa, about to leave on his first visit to the United States as head of state, is hoping to win agreement in Washington on a reduction of up to 80% in the Polish debt and will be trying to woo Polish-American investors to help accelerate his country’s drive to modernize the economy.
In interviews with Western journalists on the eve of his trip, which will take him to Los Angeles and a meeting with former President Ronald Reagan, Walesa compared Poland’s economy to “a car with square wheels.” He said he will appeal to Washington to aid Poland in the interest of bolstering the Soviet Baltic republics and other areas that are following in Poland’s reform footsteps.
“I will try to encourage Americans of Polish origin and Americans generally by showing that there is great business to do in Poland and, through Poland, in other countries in the region,” Walesa said. “I want to point out that we impede the development of such countries as Lithuania and the other Baltic states as they replace us in our present position.”
Walesa said he will seek from the Americans “a cooperation based on new principles.”
The cornerstone of the “new principles” would involve U.S. backing for a Polish proposal to forgive 80% of the country’s $47-billion debt to other nations, incurred mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.
Polish officials have lobbied heavily with the Americans, Germans and Japanese for backing in negotiations next month with the so-called Paris Club, which represents the debtor nations.
After meeting this week with an American delegation headed by David Malford, deputy secretary of the Treasury, Walesa’s office announced that Poland could expect the 80% debt reduction in two stages over three years. It said final negotiations likely would be concluded during Walesa’s visit.
Polish officials have argued that, without relief, debt servicing alone could cost $15 billion in the next few years, severely reducing Poland’s chances of bringing its telecommunications, transport and trade facilities up to a West European standard.
The issue of joining Western Europe, Walesa said, is his primary concern as president.
“We want to make Poland fit the European connection,” Walesa said. “And because our political and economic systems have not been compatible with Europe in the past, now we must quickly adapt it so that we can unite. Europe is private, Europe has defined economic owners, Europe is pluralistic in politics. We want to build this.”
Walesa arrives in Washington on Tuesday and will spend two days in talks there. He will then travel to Chicago, which has the largest Polish community in the United States, and New York City.
A personal high point of the tour is expected to be his visit with former President Reagan in Los Angeles on March 23. Reagan is regarded as a towering hero to most of Walesa’s countrymen.