WARSAW, Poland -- Vice President George Bush engaged in an extraordinary public tribute to Poland's political underground Monday and told its communist leaders in a televised address that as the country moves toward greater freedoms, 'We will seek new ways to be helpful.'
Nearing the end of a four-day visit that marked a rebound in U.S.-Polish relations and a restoration of full diplomatic ties, Bush used an unprecedented 5-minute speech to the Polish people to assure them, 'We will always be with you.'
At the same time, Bush exerted gentle pressure on the regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to not only continue 'the initial steps' taken toward economic reform and national reconciliation, but to grant broader freedoms.
'It's not for me to try to tell you, the Polish people, what road to take. That's a matter for Poles themselves to decide. But I can tell you what has worked in our country and in many countries,' he said.
'It is respect for human rights. It is the right to form independent and self-governing organizations for many purposes, including the protection of workers' interest. It is an economic system that encourages people to reach their full potential.
'As you move toward greater freedom and pluralism, we will seek new ways to be helpful,' he said.
Bush also spoke of his talks Sunday with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. It was the first time Walesa's name was mentioned as a leader of Solidarity in the official Polish media since the union was crushed with the imposition of martial law in 1981.
'Much mutual suspicion and bitterness remain from the events of December 1981,' he said. 'But all agree that Poland should be strong and propserpous and independent and play its proper role as a great nation in the heart of Europe.'
Despite often contentious discussions that did little to resolve deep-seated differences over Poland's future, Bush thanked his government hosts 'for their traditional Polish hospitality' and said he had witnessed 'a spontaneous outpouring of affection for the United States of America that I will never forget.'
'Za nasza i wasza wolnosc -- For your freedom and ours,' he said, 'and as we invoke this cry from Poland's glorious past, let us look to the future: Niech zyje Polska -- Long live Poland.'
While Bush tread carefully in his reference to Solidarity and his discussion of what the government should do to win further support from the United States, the initial Polish reaction was critical. He had barely finished when a television commentator said the speech indicated Bush had not rid himself of 'myths and illusions' he carried to Poland.
As Bush left the television studio after his appearance -- the first by a Western leader -- he was asked about the anticipated criticism of his remarks and quipped to reporters: 'What's new? You criticize my speeches in the United States.'
To shouts of 'Long live Bush,' Bush started the day with a pilgrimage to the grave of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, the Catholic priest whose 1984 slaying by secret police kept alive the flame of the rebellious Solidarity trade union.
Bush arrived at St. Stanislaw Kostka Church accompanied by Walesa, which triggered an emotional surge that underscored the depth of political discord in the communist state.
While it has become commonplace for foreign dignitaries to meet with Walesa, the public display Monday was not. However, the absence of interference in no way denoted government approval.
The event was not mentioned by the state-run media. Moreover, sources said, Polish authorities demanded removal of the Polish flag from Bush's limousine after learning Walesa would accompany the vice president to the church.
Nonetheless, there was no overt attempt to prevent the joint appearance, which had been under consideration for some time and helped the U.S. side reinforce its position of continued pressure on Jaruzelski while enabling Bush to project an image of toughness in dealing with the communist government.
The reaction was so strong that as they toured the church, Walesa turned to Bush and quipped, 'Why don't you stay here and run for election?'
In fact, aides to Bush have expressed no shortage of pleasure about the response he has drawn here, at times a sharp contrast to what he has encountered on the campaign trail.
Walesa clearly was moved by the show of support from Bush.
'It's the biggest support ever given to Solidarity,' he said. 'We are happy he understands our strivings and our struggle.'
Bush's mission to Poland ends Tuesday with a news conference. He then flies on to Krakow to tour the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau before traveling on to Bonn, West Germany, to resume a round of consulations with allied leaders.