Baltic American leaders left a contentious meeting with President Bush yesterday convinced that the United States is not inclined to take strong action against the Soviet military crackdown in the Baltic states for fear of undercutting Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

"I think we have a better chance of convincing Gorbachev than the president of the United States" to change his policy on the Baltics, said Asta Banionis of the Lithuanian American Community, one of several visitors who left the unscheduled meeting with Bush very unhappy.

Baltic American sources said Bush indicated he is not inclined to postpone or cancel the planned Feb. 11-13 summit meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow and suggested that the United States has little leverage that could substantially affect Soviet actions in the beleaguered Baltic states.

A senior administration official disputed this account of the meeting, saying that Bush was "totally noncommittal" about what he would do. White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said "no decision has been made to go forward" with the summit.

In a stormy meeting in the office of national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, one of the Baltic leaders accused Bush of "appeasement" of the Soviets, a charge Bush heatedly denied. After hearing a number of recommendations from the visitors, ranging from postponement of the summit to the suspension of U.S. humanitarian aid and denial of visas for official Soviet visitors, Bush and Scowcroft expressed concern that any strong U.S. action could strengthen the hand of conservative forces contending for power in the Soviet Union, according to Baltic American sources.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, meanwhile, said the question of the summit is under review and that the administration believes it is "important" to continue strategic arms negotiations with the Soviets. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Obukhov has been in Washington since Monday meeting with Undersecretary of State Reginald Bartholomew on strategic arms questions.

Baker added that "the United States and the Soviet Union have made tremendous progress over the course of the last two years in improving the relationship between our two countries, and the events of the last 10 days to two weeks {in the Baltics}, I'm afraid to say, could have the effect of putting that progress in jeopardy."

Baker said he had expressed concern about the developments to Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh and that Bush had spoken to Gorbachev about the crackdown. "We'll continue to make our views known" in hopes there can be a peaceful resolution of the dispute between the Kremlin and the three independence-minded Baltic states, he said.

Baker's statement came as he met with visiting high-level Baltic officials, Latvian Vice President Dainis Ivans, Lithuanian Vice President Bronius Kuzmickas and Estonian Minister Endal Lippmaa. Ivans and Kuzmickas urged specific U.S. retaliatory actions, as well as words, in testimony yesterday to the Congressional Helsinki Commission.

Ivans said "it is unthinkable" that Bush would go through with the planned summit meeting in Moscow under the circumstances and declared that "economic assistance to the central Soviet government must be stopped." He also urged that the United States help to organize an international conference on the situation in the Baltic states and that a high-level U.S. delegation be sent to the Baltic states as soon as possible.

Kuzmickas urged that the administration extend official recognition to the democratically-elected Baltic governments, that it help to convene an international conference and place the Baltic issue on the agenda of the United Nations, and that it channel any U.S. aid directly to Soviet republics and cities rather than through the central government in Moscow. At the State Department, he also asked Baker to cancel the forthcoming summit meeting.

Nearly all the members of Congress attending the hearing spoke out in strong terms against Soviet military pressure on the Baltic states, and several spoke of their loss of confidence in Gorbachev.

The United States formally demanded yesterday that the Soviet Union explain its actions in the Baltics to the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the State Department said.