The presidents of the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia met Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Tuesday and said they are taking home compromise proposals to end the political crisis caused by their decisions to secede from the Soviet Union.
Although the leaders refused to disclose any details of their discussion with Gorbachev, they appeared to be near agreement on a formula for suspending their declarations of independence during negotiations on the terms on which they will leave the Soviet Union.
Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs said that the central government no longer demands that the declarations of independence be repealed and is willing to negotiate if they are simply “frozen.”
But Gorbunovs said that he has stressed to Gorbachev that the negotiations are only to be about the transition period to independence, since none of the three republics, all forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, are willing to abrogate those declarations.
The three presidents will report to their parliaments today, and there is rare optimism that the long political deadlock will soon be broken and the two-month-old economic blockade of Lithuania lifted.
In a brief session with reporters late in the day in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush said he is encouraged by the meeting.
“I think that’s a heartening development,” Bush said. “I’ve said all along we want dialogue to go forward.”
After the meeting, Gorbunovs told a news conference: “We proposed very concrete negotiations to conclude a treaty on the legal status of the transition period. If we talk about a transition period, we are talking about the implementation of state sovereignty. Thus, this is full de jure (legal) recognition of our declaration.”
Gorbachev, speaking before the Supreme Soviet, the country’s legislature, had said earlier Tuesday that he is willing to interpret “in the broad sense” the need for Lithuania--which was the first to declare its independence and which has gone the furthest to implement it--to rescind its declaration of independence before talks could begin.
“If there would be a suspension of those actions taken and a return to the situation (before the declaration), even only for the time that discussions are going on . . . then we shall be able to start negotiations,” Gorbachev told deputies.
“As this means returning to the (previous) situation, let it be only for the period of the talks. . . . Our choice is a political solution, but let everyone know that if developments demand we will use all constitutional means.”
Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis refused to say whether he would propose such a suspension to the Supreme Council, the republic’s legislature, but he, too, praised the progress that had been made.
“Constructive dialogue is on the way,” Landsbergis said. “The sides identified a point of contact that can provide a way out of the present situation. A true political dialogue could begin between Lithuania and the Soviet Union with the simultaneous ending of the blockade. . . .”
Landsbergis said that the central government and the three republic presidents “clarified and specified” their positions during the Kremlin meeting, implying there had been shifts on both sides in an attempt to break the impasse.
Gorbachev had not moved from his basic position that Lithuania and the other Baltic republics must suspend their declarations of independence, Landsbergis contended, but he had for the first time emphasized that this was necessary only for the period of negotiations. And he consequently implied that the first item for discussion in those talks would be a means of incorporating the declarations in an agreement on secession.
Landsbergis added that the three Baltic leaders had also been interested in ideas for a new Soviet federation as a “union of sovereign states,” a concept that Gorbachev has nurtured for more than a year as a way to decentralize the Soviet Union but still hold it together.
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, who returned immediately to Tallinn, the republic’s capital, also expressed satisfaction with the discussions here, according to Estonian Radio.
Lithuanian officials said the meeting should be counted a success simply because Gorbachev and Landsbergis, who have characterized each other in scathing terms in recent weeks, had avoided angry quarrels and had even found a number of points on which they could agree.
The three presidents first met Gorbachev on Tuesday afternoon with the leaders of the other Soviet republics as members of the new Federal Council to discuss the new charter uniting the country’s 15 constituent republics. They then met with him and Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov for an hour and a quarter to discuss the situation in the Baltic republics.
The council formed a special working group to draft the new charter after a broad discussion of the principles that should be incorporated. All three Baltic presidents spoke, according to the official news agency Tass, as did Boris N. Yeltsin, the president of Russia, the largest republic.
Just before the Federal Council met, the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies, the republic’s Parliament, adopted a declaration of sovereignty that proclaimed that the Russian republic’s constitution and laws would take legal precedence on its territory over those of the Soviet Union and would give the republic’s government, not the central planners, control of its resources.
Although the declaration is of little more than symbolic importance initially, it was further evidence of the growing and increasingly volatile crisis within the Soviet Union as a federal system.