Leaders of the Baltic republic of Latvia yesterday asked President Bush to recognize their drive for political independence and for help in attracting business investment and expertise needed to end their "economic crisis," but got no specific commitments in return.

Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, saying the Latvians are seeking to bring about political and economic changes "peacefully and gradually," appealed to Bush to support establishment of a U.S. information office in the capital of Riga, private investment by U.S. corporations and assistance from American universities, which he said could provide expertise on restructuring the Latvian economy.

"Our activities are not totally against {Soviet President Mikhail} Gorbachev," Godmanis said, "because we are going to show how peacefully and how gradually it is possible to make a transition to normal economic relations."

Godmanis and other Latvian leaders have been in Washington for a week, meeting with members of Congress, administration officials and private business executives. Originally their request for a meeting with Bush was turned down, but after Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) called Bush last week to urge him to meet with Godmanis, the session was added to the president's schedule. White House officials blamed rejection on "scheduling problems."

Godmanis's visit was the latest indication of how the political upheaval in the Soviet Union has caused uneasiness for the Bush administration, which has tried to pay lip service to its decades-old support for political independence for the Baltics without doing anything to undermine Gorbachev's efforts to reform his country.

Yesterday's 40-minute session at the White House included Latvian Foreign Minister Janis Jurkans, who urged the administration to be bolder in support of the Baltics' political independence movement.

"We told Mr. Bush that today it's not enough to say, 'Well, we don't recognize Latvia's, Lithuania's, Estonia's incorporation,' " he said. "Today, when we have set up this transitional period, some real concrete steps have to be taken . . . to change this nonrecognition to a real recognition."

Deputy White House press secretary Roman Popadiuk turned aside questions about U.S. recognition of Latvian independence, saying, "The governments of the Baltics have made it clear that they want to undertake a dialogue with Moscow to resolve the situation. We support that process of dialogue."

Godmanis said Bush had asked a series of "very exact" questions about the Latvian requests and had promised to consider them. White House deputy press secretary Stephen T. Hart said that while Bush listened to the pleas of the Latvians, "I'm not aware of any commitments that were made."