The White House said yesterday that the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting planned for next month in Moscow is "up in the air" because of the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania, as administration officials continued to assess the role of President Mikhail Gorbachev in the military operation and the issue of potential U.S. sanctions against the Soviet Union.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, who said last Tuesday that President Bush was still "hoping" and "planning" to go to Moscow for the Feb. 11-13 meeting, told reporters yesterday "there's a general skepticism now that we would go" in the light of last weekend's violent takeover of several government buildings in Vilnius. Fitzwater added, however, that a final decision will not be made for some time.
Reports reaching Washington left considerable uncertainty about the extent to which Gorbachev authorized the series of moves that led to the use of force in Lithuania even if, as he publicly stated, he did not authorize the use of force itself.
The most important immediate question, officials said, is whether the military crackdown on the democratically-elected government will continue in Lithuania and intensify in the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia. This more than any public statement by Kremlin leaders would indicate the direction in which the Soviet Union is headed, the sources said.
The president's crisis-monitoring and management team, the so-called deputies committee, met on the Lithuanian situation for the second time in two days for what a senior official called "further analyzing" and "possible updating" of the options open to Bush should he decide to take concrete action.
A senior official said that "various buildings are generating options but the president is clearly not in the frame of mind" to announce any sanctions against the Soviet Union "at this hour," although "this could change."
Among the options before Bush are what one official called a "return to the status quo" prior to last month's decision to waive existing law temporarily to allow trade concessions to Moscow. The administration announced $1 billion in credits for the Soviets to buy wheat and other grain from U.S. farmers, but Fitzwater said all but $200 million of that has already been used.
If sanctions are ordered, an official said, the first ones may be suspension of some technical discussions and cancellations of some low-level official visits.
"The efforts we have made so far on behalf of the Soviet Union to help their economy . . . are the obvious tools that we would have" if a decision were made to impose sanctions, Fitzwater said.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) called yesterday for the United States to suspend all remaining agricultural export credits. Dole, who was a strong advocate of the grain credit plan when it was announced, said that "unless Gorbachev puts an immediate end to the threats, blackmail and aggression," the United States should not do "business as usual" with him.
Dole introduced legislation to allow U.S. aid to be channeled directly to democratic and market-oriented republics in the Soviet Union or in other countries with undemocratic central governments.
The Congressional Helsinki Commission, headed by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), called on Bush to delay his planned summit meeting with Gorbachev because of the violence in Lithuania and to downgrade the Soviet Union's trade status. Rep. William S. Broomfield (Mich.), senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also suggested a delay in the summit.
On the other hand, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) did not endorse calling off the summit because he said this could "inhibit the ability of the United States to express itself strongly to the Soviet leadership."
There are two considerations in the White House policy-making on the issue, an administration official said. Bush does not wish to do more harm than necessary to U.S.-Soviet relations that have improved under Gorbachev, and he does not wish to strengthen the hand of conservative forces in Moscow.
The diplomatic representatives of the three Baltic states -- Stasys Lozoraitis of Lithuania, Anatol Dinsbergs of Latvia and Ernst Jaakson of Estonia -- met for 45 minutes with Assistant Secretary of State Raymond Seitz and presented a diplomatic note asking for a strong signal to Moscow that U.S. action will be taken if additional force is used.
"All these tragic events could have been avoided if a signal had been given a little bit earlier," Lozoraitis said at a news conference. The Lithuanian representative said he would not insist on postponement of next month's U.S.-Soviet summit because "sometimes it might be more useful to talk to Gorbachev."
The State Department said U.S. representatives at an all-European conference on peaceful settlement of disputes starting today in Malta will raise the problems in the Baltic states and strongly urge peaceful solutions. European governments, in particular, have suggested that the Baltic issue be taken up with Moscow in this forum, which is a review meeting for experts, including those from the Soviet Union, sponsored by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Staff writers Tom Kenworthy and Kent Jenkins contributed to this report.