Clinton ends visit to Poland, leaving expectations unfulfilled


WARSAW, Poland -- President Clinton ended a two-day visit to Poland yesterday, leaving behind a modest package of economic aid and vague promises of security assistance -- far less than his hosts believe they need.

In this country often trapped in the vise of great European conflicts, Mr. Clinton did little to ease Polish President Lech Walesa's security fears for the future. He stopped well short of meeting Mr. Walesa's demand for a date by which Poland would be guaranteed military protection under NATO's security umbrella.

He spoke eloquently of his hopes for Poland and the other former Soviet-dominated states.

"To the courage that enables men and women to drop behind enemy lines, face down rumbling tanks or advance freedom's cause underground, we must add a new civil courage -- the energy and optimism and patience to move forward through peaceful but hard and rapidly changing times," the president said in a speech to the Sejm, Poland's parliament.

"We will not let the Iron Curtain be replaced with a veil of indifference," Mr. Clinton promised.

That line drew a nod of approval from Mr. Walesa, who was on hand in the packed parliament chamber.

But the view here seemed to be that Mr. Clinton had not ventured much further than he did in his visit to Europe last January when the Partnership for Peace was first proposed as a step short of full NATO membership for former Warsaw Pact nations.

"Our expectations were not completely fulfilled," Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski said. "I would have liked our dialogue on NATO to have gone much further than it did. Today, I feel we have come an inch or maybe half an inch closer toward entry."

Bronislaw Geremek, a member of the centrist Freedom Union and chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, described Mr. Clinton's speech as "beautiful" but said it "did little satisfy our security expectations."

Informal talks are likely to begin next year on further steps that Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries would have to take to join the NATO alliance, Mr. Clinton said last week.

As a first step, Poland and 20 other countries, including Russia and some of its former republics, have joined the Partnership for Peace, a cooperative military venture with NATO that is to stage its first joint maneuvers this September in Poland.

In his speech, Mr. Clinton declared that "Poland should never again have its fate decided for it by others." No European democracy, he added, "should ever be consigned to a gray area, buffer zone," between the United States and its allies in the West and Russia in the East.

The night before, in a strongly worded toast during a state dinner for the visiting U.S. president, Mr. Walesa had warned that the slow pace of development in post-Communist Central Europe could lead to a "gray zone in a security void, a nowhere land where anything can happen."

Mr. Walesa, whose Solidarity Movement helped to undo the Soviet grip on Poland and set in motion the collapse of Moscow's hold on Eastern Europe, expressed the hope that NATO's security zone could expand during Mr. Clinton's term in office. It was a clear plea for Poland to be admitted to the alliance by 1996.

The Polish president also called for American "vision" to lead in the post-Cold War era. But despite heavy advance billing of the Clinton speech by White House aides, who called it the most important in the president's weeklong European tour, his remarks were largely a restatement of administration policy. Even his phrase "veil of indifference" was lifted from remarks he delivered earlier this year.

Before departing Warsaw last evening for a three-day economic summit meeting in Naples, Italy, Mr. Clinton delivered an economic package of up to $200 million in venture capital, loan guarantees and technical aid.

The help is a far cry from the large-scale assistance that the United States gave Western Europe after World War II. Most of the money is to be drawn from international lending institutions, U.S. labor union pension funds and private investors; a total of $12.5 million in direct aid from the United States is also included.

Several of the programs are designed to encourage economic development in Poland and to fight the problems it has caused. Despite being one of the success stories of the former Soviet bloc, Poland's growing free market economy has produced high unemployment in a country where joblessness was virtually unknown for decades, especially in some rural areas, where the rate exceeds 25 percent.

The fears of many Poles that they might be the next to lose their jobs led to the victory, in parliamentary elections last fall, of the Democratic Left Alliance, a reform party headed by a number of former Communists.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, who leads the Democratic Left Alliance the Sejm, offered qualified praise after Mr. Clinton's address.

"Let's treat it as a good beginning," he said. "This is not a spectacular move, but at least it's a move forward."

Though a recent poll rated Mr.Clinton as the Poles' favorite foreign leader, his visit generated little visible excitement and smaller crowds than President George Bush got on his trip here in July 1992. Clinton aides chalked that up to the sober atmosphere that prevails in Poland, now that the euphoria of the liberation era is gone.

During his 25-hour stay in Warsaw, his first visit to this country, the president made a number of ceremonial stops, including one at the Warsaw Ghetto monument, which commemorates the 1943 uprising against the Nazis by Jewish resistance fighters, and another at the memorial to the children of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, in which 200,000 Poles were killed by the German army.

Mr. Clinton's efforts to focus attention on European unity are being overshadowed by a foreign policy crisis closer to home -- the flood of refugees from Haiti and hints of a possible U.S. invasion of the Caribbean nation.

"I don't really think we should be discussing Haiti in Poland," Mr. Clinton said during a picture-taking session yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak.

The president, making his third European trip in six months, is being accompanied by Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea, who are mixing sightseeing and official events.

TTC The New York Times contributed to this article.

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