President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Tuesday nominated veteran diplomat Alexander Bessmertnykh, the Soviet ambassador to Washington, to become his new foreign minister.

The Supreme Soviet later voted 421-3 to approve the president's choice. Bessmertnykh replaces longtime Gorbachev ally, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who announced his resignation Dec. 20 to protest what he said was the president's drift toward dictatorship under the influence of hard-liners.In Washington, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater gave a measured response Tuesday to Bessmertnykh's appointment.

"The president has known him for a number of years. And he's been very instrumental in shaping U.S.-Soviet relations," Fitzwater said. "We know him well, respect him, we can work with him."

As the vote results were announced, Gorbachev turned and smiled at Bessmertnykh, who had flown back from Washington to attend the legislative session. Lawmakers broke into applause.

The Supreme Soviet also approved the appointment of Boris Pugo, an orthodox Communist, as interior minister. Pugo has been in the job since December.

Lawmakers peppered Bessmertnykh with questions about foreign policy, including Soviet relations with Israel and Moscow's stance on the Persian Gulf crisis. He reiterated that the Soviet Union has no plans to send troops to join any allied attack on Iraq, formerly a Soviet ally.

Speaking about the military crackdown in Lithuania on Sunday, which brought wide condemnation abroad, Bessmertnykh said "problems in our union will be resolved by the union together with republics on a just basis."