MOSCOW, JUNE 11 -- In a gesture that Baltic leaders said could mark a major step in breaking their impasse with Moscow, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has agreed to meet Tuesday with the leaders of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to discuss the region's bid for independence.

The three Baltic leaders will meet with Gorbachev as members of a Soviet presidential advisory group, the recently created Federation Council, and then later in separate sessions. The Soviet leader's encounter with Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis will be the first time the two have met since the republic's March 11 declaration of independence.

Lithuanian legislator Algimantas Cekoulis said that Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov "is still insisting on calling the meetings Tuesday 'discussions' rather than official negotiations, but it's clear we are moving ahead." Ryzhkov is also scheduled to meet with Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene.

Cekoulis said the Lithuanian parliament's offer last month to suspend laws passed after the March 11 declaration during negotiations with Moscow was "instrumental in bringing Moscow to the table." Gorbachev and Ryzhkov had said earlier that they wanted Lithuania to suspend the declaration itself before negotiations could begin. The Kremlin cut off oil and many other raw-material shipments to Lithuania in April to press the republic into abandoning the declaration.

During the Washington summit earlier this month, the White House reportedly tried to put only minimal pressure on Gorbachev to permit Baltic independence, despite the Kremlin's economic embargo on Lithuania. The lifting of the embargo and the start of official negotiations with the Baltic republics would probably help Gorbachev's case in the U.S. Congress, where the fate of a U.S.-Soviet trade bill signed at the summit will be decided.

While all three Baltic republics have declared independence this year under differing formulas, Gorbachev has insisted that secession from the Soviet Union can come only through a new law that requires a republic-wide referendum, followed by a transition period of up to five years. In recent weeks he has said that independence could take anywhere from two to seven years.

The presidents of the three republics -- Arnold Ruutel of Estonia, Anatolijs Gorbunovs of Latvia and Landsbergis of Lithuania -- formed a Baltic Alliance in May to coordinate their attempts to win independence. The three Baltic leaders say they are exempt from the new secession law, since their republics were forcibly annexed in 1940 as the result of a secret pact between Moscow and Nazi Germany and never willingly accepted membership in the Soviet Union.

Even as they waited for hopeful signs from the Kremlin, the three republics have won a few moral victories in recent weeks. The most significant came during the Washington summit when the new president of the powerful Russian republic, maverick populist Boris Yeltsin, expressed public support for the Baltics and discussed the possibility of creating direct trade and political links with them.

Gorbachev is also scheduled to speak Tuesday before the Supreme Soviet, the nation's standing legislature, on the new Soviet government plan for economic reform. The plan has been roundly criticized as indecisive, even by Gorbachev's economic advisers.

The legislatures in all three Slavic republics -- Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia -- already have denounced the plan, saying that its proposal to double and triple food prices without moving more quickly to eliminate centralized planning and other remnants of the Stalinist command economy will lead only to social disorder.

In his speech, Gorbachev is expected to urge the Supreme Soviet to pass the transition plan as written. But, government sources say, he may yet blame the new plan's deficiencies on Prime Minister Ryzhkov's government, force Ryzhkov's resignation and move more decisively toward the establishment of a market economy.

With his new public platform, Yeltsin has attacked the economic overhaul for making clear how it would hurt the consumer without ensuring some degree of economic benefit. Yeltsin told a television interviewer Saturday night that he had an "alternative plan" but gave no details.

Gorbachev also faces the possibility of a sharp split in the Communist Party. In an interview, Vyacheslav Shostokovsky, rector of the Party's Higher School, said that the recent creation of a hard-line, neo-Stalinist Russian Communist Party in Leningrad has "made clear the battle lines."

"If this alliance of party hacks and regional leaders and workers' fronts shows any strength, you might find the radicals and the moderates making common cause," Shostokovsky said. "The key question now is where does Gorbachev stand? So far he has been unable to push away the conservatives, the {party stalwarts}. He may want to do it, but so far he doesn't seem willing to take the risk."