President Bush reacted cautiously yesterday to the growing crackdown by Soviet military forces in Lithuania, and administration officials decided after interagency discussions to make no major new statements on the subject during the day.
Bush told reporters "there was not a great discussion" of Lithuania when he spoke by telephone yesterday morning with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who called from Moscow to discuss the Persian Gulf situation. "He knows of my position" that the United States does not recognize the forced incorporation of Lithuania and the other two Baltic States, Estonia and Latvia, into the Soviet Union, Bush said. The president noted that earlier this week the White House criticized as "provocative and counterproductive" the sending of additional Soviet troops to the Baltic States.
The interagency "deputies committee" headed by deputy national security adviser Robert M. Gates met yesterday morning following reports of new violence in Lithuania. Some administration officials were suprised that no U.S. action or statement resulted from the deliberations. One official said Bush was being cautious in view of the tense international situation and that the United States is continuing to watch the Lithuanian events.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said a U.S. consular officer met yesterday morning in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis to review the situation. "We continue to view this matter very seriously," Fitzwater said.
Victor Nakas, spokesman of the Lithuanian Information center here, was sharply critical of the administration, saying that by giving only a "pro forma protest" to Gorbachev, Bush was giving the Soviet leader "a green light to do anything he wants." Nakas said that in his view the real purpose of Gorbachev's call to Bush "wasn't to discuss the gulf but to see how Bush would react on the Lithuanian issue."
Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) drew a parallel between Lithuania and Kuwait in a resolution he prepared for consideration on the Senate floor. The resolution, which calls on Gorbachev "to refrain from the further use of coercive tactics" in the Baltic States, said such tactics are especially unacceptable when "the world, including the Soviet Union itself, is united in opposition to the forcible annexation of another small nation, Kuwait, by its brutal neighbor, Iraq."
"The democratic aspirations of the people of the republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are no less important than the sovereign rights of the emirate of Kuwait," Bradley said in a statement accompanying his resolution. Co-sponsored by the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, George J. Mitchell (Maine) and Robert J. Dole (Kan.), the Bradley resolution is likely to pass overwhelmingly.