WASHINGTON -- Responding in part to a plea from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, President Bush refused yesterday to recognize the junta that overthrew Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Mr. Bush called for the ousted leader to be returned to power and signaled his intent to isolate the new Kremlin leadership economically as well as politically.
"We will avoid in every possible way actions that would lend legitimacy or support to this coup effort," the president said.
In a message to the White House, Mr. Yeltsin asked Mr. Bush to support him in resisting the group that overthrew the Soviet president, an administration official said.
Part of Mr. Bush's statement late yesterday "responded directly to Yeltsin," the official said.
The statement was intended to show that the United States would not "try to develop a relationship" with the coup's leaders that would lend them legitimacy, the official said.
Earlier, after a quick return to the White House from his Maine vacation home, Mr. Bush described the coup as an "unconstitutional resort to force" and said it bypassed both Soviet law and popular will.
He said he was putting U.S. economic assistance to the Soviets "on hold." The action would put the brakes on the Soviet Union's integration into the global market economy, and put the new Kremlin leadership on notice that "business would not be business as usual."
Mr. Bush said Mr. Gorbachev's "unconstitutional removal" from power, the declaration of a state of emergency and the deployment of the Soviet army in Moscow "raise the most serious questions about the future course of the Soviet Union."
He described the coup as "misguided and illegitimate," and said it bypassed both Soviet law and popular will.
U.S. policy in the crisis, he said, would be based on these considerations:
* Soviet reform policies must continue, and include reconciliation between the central government and the republics.
* Support for constitutionally elected leaders, and opposition to the use of force or intimidation and restrictions on free speech.
* Opposition to the use of force in the Baltic republics to repress or replace democratically elected governments.
* Interest in the Soviet Union's abiding by its international treaties and commitments, including its commitment to respect basic human rights and democratic practices.
The United States, he said, had no interest in a new Cold War, or in making East-West tensions worse. But neither would it support economic aid for the Soviet Union while it was under unconstitutional rule.
The "hold" on economic aid will cover direct U.S. economic and technical assistance, including advice on converting the Soviet arms industry to peaceful manufacture, agricultural programs, credit arrangements, and the Soviet's application for interim membership of the International Monetary Fund.
Soviet Ambassador Viktor G. Kompletkov delivered a message from the coup leaders to the State Department and the White House. It sought to assure Washington that the leadership would continue the reforms introduced by Mr. Gorbachev.
But officials reacted with skepticism. Officials said that Mr. Kompletkov's reception was not meant to indicate any recognition of the Moscow leadership.
Throughout the day the wires buzzed among allied capitals as Mr. Bush and Western leaders pondered a joint response to the unexpected overthrow of Mr. Gorbachev by hard-liners from the Communist Party, the army and the KGB. Mr. Bush talked yesterday to the leaders of the world's major industrial nations: Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan.
"If we're going to set back democracy, set back reform, obviously not only the United States but Europe will put things on hold as well. There's a lot at stake in all of this," Mr. Bush said.
Individual European countries indicated they would not immediately suspend aid to the Soviet Union, although Secretary of State James A. Baker III was expected to attend a meeting of the European Community this week.
"We're not trying to go back to Square One," President Bush said. "What we're trying to do is say let the situation clear up, but adhere to certain fundamental principles."
Mr. Bush said the power grab in Moscow could still be defeated by "the will of the people." He added: "Let's just remain open on this as to whether it's going to succeed or not," he told reporters at his vacation compound in Maine before returning to Washington.
Mr. Bush will meet Secretary Baker, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and other key security officials today. They will consider the internal, bilateral and international fall-out of the sudden disruption of the Gorbachev era, which ended the post-World War II Cold War, replaced confrontation with cooperation, and introduced a spate nuclear, conventional and chemical arms agreements.