KENNEBUNKPORRT, MAINE — KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush pushed hard yesterday for the Soviet central government to formally release the Baltic republics today.
White House officials made clear that if the union's Supreme Soviet votes as expected today to grant independence to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, U.S. recognition would quickly follow.
"Everybody knows our policy," Mr. Bush told reporters. "We want to see the Baltics free."
Administration officials said that they were actively trying to convince Soviet authorities that the time had come to free the three states they seized by force in 1939.
"We're talking to the Soviet Union about this, we're doing all we can, believe me," National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Mr. Bush is resisting pressure to join other nations in recognizing the independence of the Baltic states before a formal separation agreement is agreed upon by the central government. He doesn't want to undercut what remains of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's authority, aides say.
"The practical fact is that control over [the Baltics] in a legal and in a military way is with the Soviet Union," Mr. Scowcroft said at a later meeting with reporters. "And what we're saying is, 'Let them go.' "
A letter to Mr. Bush bearing a personal appeal for recognition from Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis was received in Washington yesterday but had not yet made it into the president's mail box in Maine, officials said.
Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney arrived for a scheduled visit to Mr. Bush's vacation retreat yesterday and joined the White House in struggling to keep up with another day of head-spinning events.
At the top of their agenda was reconsideration of an economic aid package for the Soviet states that is expected to be taken up at a meeting Thursday of the seven leading industrialized nations.
Mr. Bush continues to take a cautious approach. Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that the president believes "this is a time for assessment, to take stock in where we are, the reforms that are under way, the progress that has been made, the possibilities for progress.
'We've got to give them time to kind of go through this on a daily basis and establish policies that are responsive and in line with Western leadership." But the White House is frantically recalculating with each new "incredible" event, he said.
A special committee composed of the No. 2 officials of the national security agencies and the Treasury Department, chaired by Deputy National Security Adviser Robert M. Gates, has been meeting "continuously" on the issue, Mr. Fitzwater said.
There have also been "any number" of phone calls between President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, he added.
Mr. Scowcroft said that the United States still considers Mr. Gorbachev the constitutional leader of the Soviet Union, but he noted, "There's a growing interrelationship" between the union and the Russian Republic headed by Boris N. Yeltsin, which now share the same prime minister.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney openly endorsed Mr. Yeltsin yesterday as his favorite in the power struggle with Mr. Gorbachev, saying during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Mr. Yeltsin "represents a set of principles and values that are synonymous with those that we hold for the Soviet Union." But Mr. Scowcroft projected the more delicate White House approach when he was asked how long he expects Mr. Gorbachev to survive in office.
"Both are intelligent, patriotic men. . . . I think they'll work this out themselves. It's not up to us to try to mastermind and manipulate."