September 1987 – Vice President George H.W. Bush discusses Poland, U.S. Polish-Relations, Solidarity, Lech Walesa, Polish Americans

“There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.” – Vice President George H.W. Bush, September 24, 1987


Voice of America correspondent Wayne Corey and VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien recorded the interview at the White House on September 24, 1987 shortly before Vice President George H.W. Bush left on his trip to Poland.  The recording also includes comments from Vice President Bush on INF negotiations and the importance of consultations with Western allies. These comments have not been transcribed but are included in the recording.

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I’m very much looking forward to this visit. It gives me the opportunity to do two things: consult with the Western European leaders the alliance, NATO, discuss the recent developments in arms control, take a look at the future as well, in secondly to go to Poland.

There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.

And this visit, the highest level visit some 10 years, will give the United States that America through me an opportunity to express our feelings about the Polish people, the heroism of the Polish people, to deal openly with the government and hopefully to move forward the relationship that has great potential in the future.

Wayne Corey, VOA: Poland will be the main focus of your trip. Why are you going to Poland now and is there anything specific you hope to accomplish in terms of agreements?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well, there are one or two specific things that frankly I am not at liberty to speak about here that I do want to talk to General Jaruzelski about. It is a forward step in our policy and differentiation.

There is an affection in the United States for the people of Poland. It’s important that that affection be expressed through high-level visits from time to time. We have differences on the system but we want to narrow those differences as best we can.

I’ll be meeting with the leaders of Solidarność and our country stands for free unions and human rights. And I’ll have of opportunity to discuss these along the way that both the government and other others, Church people. So, it’ s visit of showing our belief and affection for the people.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: What specific steps can the United States government take to help Poland economically and would such help depend on the human rights situation and economic reform?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well again, I won’t go into the details on the specific steps, but clearly our policy is looking for changes in human rights, changes in respect for institutions and individuals. Some progress has been made, but we, the American people, believe firmly that more changes must take place, and that of course is the position of the (U.S.) government.

We have been helpful, things have improved, but I’ll be talking about some specifics, may be things we can do to make the lot of the Polish people better, but it needs, it will need cooperation from the government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Is there a consensus between the Administration and the Congress on U.S. policy toward Poland and generally toward Eastern Europe?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Generally, there is. As I mentioned, there’s a policy of differentiation. We recognize realities, but we want to encourage people to to come forward on human rights. We want to encourage more trade. We want to encourage more flexibility. These are sovereign countries. They should be as flexible as possible, move at their own pace as much as possible. So, the policy that’s referred to as a policy of differentiation does have the support, I think, of the Congress and of our government.

Lastly, I think we’re together with Congress on the approaches we should be taking to Poland, and part of that is because there are so many Polish Americans, so many people in our country who have this love and affection for the homeland. Poland has almost a unique standing in the government, with our government, and with the Congress itself. So, I think we’re together on the policy. There are some difference. Some people are harder-line on one point, softer-line on another, but basically our policy of trying to help with the economy, our policy on human rights has broad support.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:If I may go back to Poland. President Reagan has shown great personal interest in the situation in Poland. Did you have a chance to discuss this trip with him?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve just finished lunch with him, just discussed it. You know, it’s my fervent hope that President Reagan could go to Poland some day because, I tell you, he would get a very warm reception from the Polish people. Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know, but I’m very glad to be going myself as the second highest official in the U.S. government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: Do you often have an opportunity to discuss the policy toward Poland with the Polish American leaders?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I had some opportunity to do that. I visited the Polish-American national Congress out there. We had a visit from its President Al Mazewski here just the other day. I’ve stayed in touch with Polish sentiments through various people, including one of our top people at the State Department, former colleague in Congress Ed Derwinski. I’ve talked to Danny Rostenkowski, the Democratic leader in the Congress about his trip to Poland, to the (Poznan) Fair. So, I’ve tried to stay in touch with the heartbeat of Polish-Americans because we should be responsive to their concerns as we formulate our policy with Poland.

And I think it sums up that most Polish Americans want to help the Polish people but have some concerns about the regime and hope that a visit like this might give us an opportunity to forcefully present to the regime in Poland the concerns of the American Polish community. And I plan to do that and to be frank about it. And I think I’ll have an opportunity to do just that.

Also, the Church. As you deal with Polish Americans you realize over and over again the importance of faith, of the Church itself in Poland. And I go to Poland looking forward to seeing Cardinal Glemp and hopefully other leaders in the Church.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Will you also meet with Lech Walesa?

Vice President George H.W. Bush:I think it’s scheduled to do that. And I think it is very important that I do that. And it’s more than symbolism. We respect him as an individual for his courage. That’s been stated over again. But we also want to see Poland lighten up, if they can, on the on the trade union movement. And I think it’s important that Polish leaders know from high-level in this Administration how strongly we feel about individual rights, human rights, the opportunity for individuals to get ahead. And when they are able to make some movement in terms of whether it’s more privatization on farming or whatever it is, and we say hey, that’s good, we like to see more of that.

And they don’t have to do it our way, but to get the kind of support from the United States that many Americans would like to see go to the Polish people, there has to be some forward movement. And, that’s all I’ll say. They can do what they want, but we’re the United States and here are our standards and here is where we would like to see progress.