President Bush says Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev sent him a private message containing "friendly words of greeting," but he and aides are mum about the details.

"It was just one more in what's become a series of exchanges with the president of the Soviet Union," Bush told reporters after Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertnykh hand-delivered the message Thursday."There were some very friendly words of greeting from President Gorbachev," he said. "And I had a chance to ask the ambassador to give him our best wishes for a Happy New Year."

Bush said he and the Soviet envoy discussed "some of the problems" in the Soviet Union, a nation engulfed in a political turmoil that resulted last week in the resignation of Gorbachev's longtime close ally, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

A senior administration official characterized the letter as "a private message," and would not describe it further except to say it "is not going to change the course of human history."

The communication came as Gorbachev is struggling to keep his clout and to reconcile volatile conflicts between reformers and conservatives within the Soviet Union. At the same time, the country is suffering severe economic problems, with shortages and food distribution problems.

Bush said those problems were to be expected with Gorbachev's efforts to transform his nation from a totalitarian state to a more open, market-oriented country.