Former President Richard Nixon urged Moscow to grant independence to the Baltic states, saying the conflict "poisons" U.S.-Soviet relations and that the crackdown in Lithuania had prompted the postponement of a superpower summit scheduled for February.

Nixon, in the Soviet Union on a two-week visit, also told leading Soviet economists and foreign policy experts that the United States has a legitimate interest in their country's internal affairs.Addressing the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the Soviet think tank that invited Nixon for his seventh trip to Moscow, the former president praised Mikhail Gorbachev's achievements but said he has become bogged down by a failure to "cut the umbilical cord" of Marxist doctrine.

"Soviet economic policies have been a dismal failure," Nixon said. "President Gorbachev has boldly advocated reform, but his government's policies have failed to recognize two fundamental truths: There is no halfway house between a command economy and a free economy, and there can be no successful private enterprise without private ownership."

Nixon got in a dig at his hosts for a boast by Nikita Khrushchev, reminding them that when he arrived as vice president in 1959 on his first trip to Moscow, the late Soviet leader bragged his country would surpass the United States as an economic power in five years.

"The past 30 years have proved without question that when a free economy competes with a command economy, it is simply no contest."

Nixon, now 78, later became the first U.S. president to visit Moscow while in office in 1972 as part of his "new detente" with the Kremlin.

Nixon warned that Soviet domestic turmoil can strain Mosow's relations with other countries, citing "as a case in point" the Kremlin's refusal to restore freedom to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the tiny Baltic nations it annexed in 1940.

"The general rule is that this is an internal problem, that it is your problem, not ours," he said. "But when internal problems affect foreign policy, then it is everyone's business."

On Friday the first complete results of the Soviet Union's first referendum showed that more than three-quarters of the eligible voters cast ballots last Sunday in favor of keeping the country together as a renewed federation.

Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Orlov said in presenting the preliminary referendum results to the Parliament that the overwhelming outcome demonstrated "the success of Soviet democracy."