The Senate called on President Bush yesterday to halt moves toward economic cooperation with the Soviet Union until Moscow withdraws troops recently deployed to the Baltic states and ceases its campaign against democratically elected Baltic governments.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), introducing a non-binding resolution with the support of Senate Democratic and Repubican leaders and a cross section of senior senators, charged that the Bush administration "winked, nodded and looked the other way" this week while Soviet troops cracked down in the Baltic states.
"Perhaps that was the price for ensuring Soviet cooperation in the Persian Gulf," said Byrd. "If it was, then it seems to me to have been a poor bargain."
The resolution, which passed on a voice vote, calls on Bush to refrain from providing most-favored-nation trade benefits while military pressure on the Baltic states continues, to halt all ongoing technical exchanges, to consider withdrawing U.S. support for Soviet membership in international financial organizations and immediately to review all U.S. economic benefits provided to the Soviet Union.
Sentiment against the Soviet Union's action also was rising in the House, where several members took the floor yesterday for brief speeches on the subject.
"The Communist government of the Soviet Union has reverted to form," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).
"The ghost of Lenin must be smiling as he sees his Mr. Gorbachev once again using the party's ultimate argument against people who want to be free."
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, said Michel, "has chosen to ride a tank down the road to the past, waving his Nobel Peace Prize as he passes by."
Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) warned that if Gorbachev continues to suppress the peoples of Lithuana, Latvia and Estonia, Congress would refuse to grant the Soviets any tax credits, trade credits or most-favored-nation trade status.
"Mr. Gorbachev, earn your Nobel Prize," Conte said. "Step back from the brink."
At the State Department, spokesman Margaret Tutwiler disclosed that Secretary of State James A. Baker III had telephoned the new Soviet foreign minister, Alexander Bessmertnykh, on Tuesday to congratulate him on his new job and also to make a statement of U.S. concern about the Baltic developments.
Baker, according to his spokeswoman, told Bessmertnykh that current Soviet actions in Lithuania put "at risk" the continuation of the cooperative relationship that has developed between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Tutwiler quoted Bessmertnykh as saying that "maintaining close U.S.-Soviet relations was extremely important from the Soviet standpoint." Bessmertnykh "sought to be reassuring on the Baltics," she added.
The spokeswoman also reported that three senior State Department officials, including Policy Planning Director Dennis Ross and Counselor Robert B. Zoellick, had met for 90 minutes late Tuesday with Endel Lippmaa, minister without portfolio of Estonia and the highest-ranking Baltic government official currently in the United States.
In a further response to Soviet developments, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the United States is concerned about suggestions that Gorbachev is seeking to exercise greater governmental control over the news media.
"We think it's not a good sign that he is looking to subdue or muzzle the press as a way of getting objectivity," Fitzwater said.
Staff writers Tom Kenworthy and John E. Yang contributed to this report.