KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush declined yesterday to join the rush of European countries and Canada in recognizing the independence of the Baltic states, choosing instead to wait until the Soviet government ratifies their departure.
"We're moving very, very close to recognition," he told reporters at a news conference here with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who had just announced that Canada would join the more than a dozen nations that have already taken the step.
Mr. Bush said the United States has a "special responsibility" not to act until it is clear that the Baltics would be able to establish and maintain their sovereignty.
He said that the lack of at least a tentative agreement between the Baltics and the Soviet government left too many unanswered questions about borders, administrative control and military defenses.
"I don't want to be a part of making a mistake that might contribute to some kind of anarchy within the Soviet Union," Mr. Bush said. "The U.S. is not going to precipitously commit to various things until we know a little more about what's happening."
President Bush believes that the United States is in a different position from Canada and the other countries that have granted Baltic recognition, because of its superpower status and long-time adversarial relationship with the Soviets, administration officials say.
"An independence drive for the Baltics is already going on by itself there," one administration official said. "There's no need for us to get involved."
Further, Mr. Bush is concerned about setting a precedent that some might try to apply to the Ukraine and other Soviet republics also seeking to be sovereign. "There's got to be a procedure for this," said the official, who made clear that President Bush does not want to undermine what remains of central authority in the Soviet Union.
Mr. Bush announced yesterday that the United States would make available to the Soviets a $315 million second installment of the$1.5 billion in agricultural credits granted earlier this year to enable them to buy U.S. grain. They are due to receive another $185 million Oct. 1, and the final $400 million next February. But the timetable could be sped up if the Soviets ask for that, said Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary.
The president sought to scotch expectations of new cash commitments coming out of the meeting in London Thursday of the seven leading industrial nations that are developing a package of primarily technical economic assistance for the Soviets.
"There will be nothing out of the . . . meeting that will commit us to the writing of checks," said Mr. Bush, who is continuing to insist that free market reforms must be in place in the Soviet economy before cash assistance would do any good.
"We Americans are so eager, we want it to happen right quick," the president said, in a testy defense of his caution. "We want to know all the answers, everything in place, who we're dealing with, will he be here tomorrow, is he going to be gone the next day, are they on the edge of anarchy, as some of the talking heads are telling us on television."