Baltic-Americans Fail to Get Bush to Recognize Lithuania
Leaders of Baltic-American groups urged President Bush today to take steps toward recognizing Lithuania’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, but were unable to persuade him to take that step.
“Our policy, we believe, is the correct one and it does not involve recognition,” White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said afterward.
“The President did not change his views but was impressed with the strength and depth of their convictions,” Fitzwater said.
Emerging from the meeting, Anthony Mazeika of the Baltic American Freedom League said, “We are disappointed with the official policy of the United States by not extending recognition” to President Vytautas Landsbergis’ government.
Even so, the Baltic-American leaders said they were pleased to have had an audience with Bush as last, after being turned down for meetings earlier.
“We have a lot of very good contacts on the lower- and mid-levels of the State Department. It’s just the White House we haven’t been able to penetrate. We used to wear out the threshold of the previous Administration,” said Mari-Ann Rikken, chairman of the Joint Baltic American National Committee.
Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III spent more than an hour with Americans representing the interests of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic states annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.
Mazeika said they pressed Bush and Baker to grant de facto recognition of the Landsbergis government as an intermediate step toward full diplomatic ties.
Asked if Bush left the impression that he was sympathetic to that idea, Rikken said: “No, we don’t have that feel. But the fact that he met with us, the fact that I think we made an impression, that this is not some sort of an emotional appeal. . . . I think that had an impact.”
Mazeika said Bush expressed sympathy for their cause but said he “has to consider the other agendas as well as his feeling that there must be a way to support (Soviet President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev’s overall efforts for democratic reform.”
Bush said Tuesday that Gorbachev’s tolerance of democratic freedoms in Warsaw Pact nations had demonstrated “a commitment to reform and openness that’s remarkable.”
“So give him credit and deal openly” with him on problems such as Lithuania, the President said. “But when you have difficulties like we have today, talk frankly with him about it.”
Bush’s twin-edged message of praise and restraint appeared intended to put pressure on Gorbachev not to use force or additional intimidation against Lithuania to abandon its declaration of independence.