The Senate voted unanimously yesterday to condemn the Soviet Union's crackdown on the Baltic republics and called on President Bush to consider economic pressure against Moscow unless it immediately abandons use of force in the Baltics.
The resolution approved by a Senate vote of 99 to 0 was stronger and more explicit than a version approved without dissent Wednesday by the House. But together, the two nonbinding resolutions signaled mounting congressional concern over what many lawmakers see as signs of a return to represssive policies by the Kremlin. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, did not vote.
The State Department announced yesterday that Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh is scheduled to meet Saturday in Washington with Secretary of State James A. Baker III to discuss the U.S.-Soviet summit planned for Feb. 11-13 in Moscow, arms control and the Soviet military crackdown in Lithuania and Latvia.
Bessmertnykh, who was Moscow's ambassador here until being named foreign minister 10 days ago, also is likely to meet with Bush early next week if he stays in Washington through Monday, White House officials said.
The Senate resolution, sponsored jointly by Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), called on the president to "review all economic benefits" provided by the United States to the Soviets and report to Congress whether they should be suspended.
It also called for immediate suspension of technical exchanges and consideration of withdrawal of U.S. support for Soviet membership in the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and international trade arrangements. There should be no further movement toward granting most-favored-nations trade status to the Soviet Union until repression ends and negotiations begin on restoration of sovereignty to the Baltic republics, the Senate said.
In addition, the Senate called on the administration to urge U.S. allies to follow a similar policy and suggested that the president "explore means of increasing direct diplomatic ties with the Baltic states."
In a move that could spell trouble for Senate ratification of the strategic arms reduction treaty (START) that the United States and the Soviet Union hope to sign in the near future, the Senate warned that it will "take the status of events in the Baltic states into account when considering agreements with the Soviet Union in the future."
By contrast, the House was far less explicit in its proposed sanctions against Moscow. It called on the president to consider "coordinated economic sanctions" in conjunction with European countries and urged him to "consider other actions to demonstrate" U.S. opposition to the use of force against the Baltics.
Noting that the Senate denounced the Soviet crackdown on Baltic republics two weeks ago, Dole said he thought a second message was necessary for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to "get a better understanding of how strongly we in the Senate feel about the tragedy in the Baltics. . . . "
While the United States wants to continue working with Gorbachev, Dole added, "Gorbachev needs us a lot more than we need him. His country is the one falling apart at the seams. His economy is the one flat on its back. His society is the one rent with severe national and ethnic tensions and violence. We have a strong hand to play, and we ought to play it."
While using more conciliatory language, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) noted that the European Parliament voted earlier this week to suspend $1 billion in food aid to the Soviets and said: "It is incumbent upon the United States, in consultation with our allies, to review what options we have to demonstrate our outrage with Soviet behavior."