WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Growing pains aside, Poland has shown it's possible to abandon communism almost overnight and thrive. Washington wants to nurture such success and help it spread throughout the former East bloc.

In a visit rife with political, economic and military overtones, President Clinton will get a firsthand look at the benefits so far and the challenges that remain when he stops here next week en route to the G-7 summit in Naples.

A lot of work and symbolism is being crammed into 25 1/2 hours: a state dinner; meetings with President Lech Walesa, Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and the foreign ministers of central and east European countries; and memorial services linked to anniversaries of dates in Poland's World War II history.

Clinton will hear Walesa, who once headed the Solidarity free-trade union that was a key player in overthrowing communism five years ago, ask for help in integrating Poland into western Europe by backing its applications for membership in NATO and the European Union.

As the lone remaining superpower, ''Whether it wants to or not, America bears the duty to lead,'' Walesa said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

''We will try to present arguments so that America could maintain its leadership while coping with the tasks that emerge in the world, including Poland and former communist countries,'' he said. ''America's presence in economic and military spheres is indispensable in Europe, and it is unimaginable that America could leave Europe alone.''

Walesa said while there's always room for improvement, relations between Poland and the United States are ''perhaps the best we have ever had.''

Clinton's visit culminates a parade of senior U.S. officials over the last six months who underscored Poland's importance in Washington's strategy for the region.

The list includes John Shalikashavili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.N. Ambassador Madelyn Albright, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, FBI Director Louis Freeh and Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbot.

Washington has designated Poland as one of the world's 10 biggest developing economies and plans to provide support to encourage continued market reforms in hopes that the country can provide a leading example for its former communist neighbors.

''Poland leads in the reforms, has moved the farthest and showed the best results,'' Walesa said. ''And America always supports the winners, the concrete results. We are not a messiah ... (but) we are open for others to follow our example.''

Poland had Europe's fastest-growing economy last year, and officials are predicting more of the same for the next five years. Still, people who have suffered from the loss of the social-security safety net under communism have grumbled over the slow pace of improvements.

They were so unhappy that a leftist coalition of two communist-rooted parties emerged from parliamentary elections last September.

But Walesa said there's no need to worry that the reforms could be revoked, although more rocky times remain.

''We are more than halfway through reforming the economy,'' he said. ''Politicians can make it a bit more difficult, but not to a large extent. I see no power here which could radically change the situation. What we are facing is a lot of hard work.

''There still will be troubles, strikes and emotional times, but the path has been decided.''

He said the biggest threats could come from Russia and Ukraine to the east - not from their militaries but in the form of widespread emigration to flee economic hardship or nuclear disasters like the Chernobyl plant meltdown.