Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has assured President Bush that changes taking place in the Soviet Union are designed to ensure order and do not reflect an abandonment of reform policies, administration officials said Friday.
On Thursday, Bush interrupted a vacation at his Camp David, Md., retreat to meet with Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertnykh at the White House and receive a message from Gorbachev.
Officials initially declined to disclose the contents of the message. Bush would say only that it included "friendly words of greeting."
"There were assurances, as there have been all along, that nothing's being dismantled," an administration source said in discussing the reforms Gorbachev has introduced.
The message came a week after Eduard A. Shevardnadze's abrupt resignation as Soviet foreign minister and as the Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow approved Gennady I. Yanayev as vice president.
Shevardnadze's resignation, issued with a dire warning that his nation was heading toward dictatorship, generated concerns that Gorbachev's selection of Yanayev -- a member of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo -- was a shift away from reform.
The Soviet congress also voted to give Gorbachev additional powers to deal with unrest across the Soviet Union that has been fueled by a weak economy and food shortages.
Administration officials said they are satisfied that such moves represent a consolidation of power and that the installation of Yanayev as vice president is "a move to restore order."
"It is not a concern at the moment, because the Soviets have assured us that reforms will not be reversed," one official said.
"We're taking it at face value, for now, . . . but it is hard to tell what is going on, because things are in flux," the official said.
As if to demonstrate such uncertainty, Soviet broadcasting chiefs prevented the country's most popular television news show from going on the air Friday night with a program about Shevardnadze's resignation.
The cancellation of this week's "Vzglyad," or "View," program was a dramatic illustration of continuing official controls over the Soviet news media six months after the formal abolition of censorship. More than 100 million viewers tune in to "Vzglyad" every week, attracted by its mix of provocative news reports and live interviews with controversial studio guests.
Alexander Lyubimov, the host of "Vzglyad," said he had planned to interview two close associates of Shevardnadze's to explore the reasons for the foreign minister's departure.
Lyubimov said he was summoned to a two-hour meeting Friday with the chairman of state radio and television, Leonid Kravchenko, and was told that "Vzglyad" could not go on the air Friday night because of the "current political situation" in the country. Lyubimov said it was clear that Kravchenko's principal objection was to the Shevardnadze material.
"I doubt that Kravchenko made this decision alone. In the totalitarian structure that still exists in this country, a minister of television cannot make a decision to suppress an item about a minister of foreign affairs without higher authority," Lyubimov said in an interview.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Soviet passed a new law on freedom of the press, giving legal backbone to Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or greater openness. It also ended censorship except in matters of state security.
An opposition group in the Congress of People's Deputies, meanwhile, accused officials Friday of "fraud" in pushing through the election of Gorbachev's unpopular candidate for vice president.
A spokesman for the 230-member Inter-Regional Group, Arkady Murashev, told reporters that extra ballot papers had been distributed to secure the election of Yanayev on the second ballot after he failed to win the required absolute majority on the first ballot.
According to the official results, only five ballots were not cast out of 1,828 distributed for the second ballot.
But Murashev produced seven ballots that members of the Inter-Regional Group had held back rather than placing in the voting boxes. "I think it is an intentional fraud, an abuse of the secret ballot," Murashev said.