President Bush recommended renewal of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China yesterday but said the Soviet crackdown on Lithuania would make it "extraordinarily difficult" to justify giving the same trade status to the Soviet Union.

One week before his summit here with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush noted that the Supreme Soviet has not yet passed legislation that would codify its recent emigration reforms into law, a prerequisite of granting MFN trading status. Earlier, it had been expected that a trade agreement would be signed at the summit, but that is now in doubt.

Bush suggested that passage of the Soviet emigration law is not the only reason for the delay. "I think there's a political climate in this country that would make it extraordinarily difficult to grant it," Bush said, "but that is not a bridge we're having to cross at this juncture." He added that once the Soviet law is passed, "Let's hope there's some progress on the Lithuanian question, because I think many think there's a direct linkage there. And I must say, it concerns me."

Bush's recommendation of MFN status for China automatically takes effect unless blocked by a two-thirds vote of Congress, which is considered unlikely.

Meanwhile, seven conservative senators led by Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Bush raising "profound concerns" about the results of Secretary of State James A. Baker III's negotiations with Soviet officials on strategic arms last week in Moscow. The senators maintained that agreements made by Baker give a numerical advantage to the Soviet Union in nuclear tipped air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles and limit the modernization of a non-nuclear cruise missile known as Tacit Rainbow. A senior State Department official familiar with Baker's negotiations responded that the senators' letter was incorrect in almost every respect.

In another development, 54 former diplomats, scientists and other experts including former secretary of state Cyrus R. Vance, former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara and seven Nobel laureates, asked Bush and Gorbachev in a letter to consider agreeing at the summit to halt the production of all nuclear weapons material.

Bush, who has made a series of concessions to the Chinese leadership since the Tiananmen Square massacre a year ago, said he made the decision to grant the trade status to Beijing even though he considered China's human rights record "far from adequate." Assistant Secretary of State Richard H. Solomon told a congressional panel that the president's decision was "difficult to make in light of the lack of fundamental progress in China towards healing the wounds of last June."

"I don't think this is a reward to Beijing," Bush told a White House news conference. He said the decision was based on his view that "by maintaining our involvement with China we will continue to promote the reforms for which the victims of Tiananmen gave their lives." The president said that allies such as Britain, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as students and intellectuals in China whom he did not identify, had urged him not to revoke the trade status, which grants China the normal tariff rates provided to almost all major trading partners.

{Some U.S. businesses will benefit from trade decision. Details, Page F3.}

The announcement drew immediate criticism from Chinese students in the United States and from Democrats on Capitol Hill, although opponents apparently lack the votes to block it in Congress. "There are no signs at all that the Chinese government is responding to the Bush administration's repeated concessions," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine). "Yet, in the face of this intransigence, President Bush wants to make even more concessions."

Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) said Bush made the right decision but urged him to link it more clearly to human rights improvements in the future, and said he would introduce legislation to do that. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to oppose the trade status for China, saying Bush had "missed yet another opportunity to express American indignation" over Tiananmen Square.

Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) said that while lawmakers and administration officials share disappointment about the lack of human rights progress by Beijing, taking punitive actions such as withdrawing China's trade status would only make the Chinese leaders more xenophobic.

Zhao Haiching, of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, one of the leading Chinese student organizations in the United States, said: "The decision to extend MFN is a knife in the back of the Chinese people and the democracy movement."

Bush said China has taken "modest steps" to "show responsiveness to our concerns," and cited lifting of martial law in Tibet and the release of 211 political prisoners "and then their names provided for the first time." However, Solomon said only six names were released.

Bush said China had the "proper policy" on emigration while the Soviet Union had not yet codified its law. According to U.S. officials, there has been some anecdotal evidence that exit visas have been denied in China on political grounds, but so far the trends and figures show that emigration rates are at or above last year's levels.

By pointing to emigration, however, Bush appeared to be sidestepping the larger human rights performance of the two communist giants. While Gorbachev is moving shakily toward openness, the Chinese leaders remain intolerant of dissent. Dissident astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, remain refugees at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Staff writer Don Oberdorfer contributed to this report.