President Mikhail S. Gorbachev responded Thursday to stinging attacks by hard-liners at a Communist Party leadership meeting by saying he would quit as party chief if they could muster a no-confidence vote.
But the party Central Committee rejected any question of his resignation by an overwhelming vote, on the recommendation of the top leadership in the Politburo, the Interfax news agency said.Gorbachev's offer came after Russian Communist Party chief Ivan Polozkov accused him of "abandoning the party," according to one Central Committee member interviewed during a break from the closed-door meeting.
Polozkov also criticized Gorbachev for failing to take harsh measures to restore order.
In a tactic he has used before, Gorbachev made what one delegate called a "half-serious" suggestion that he would resign if the Central Committee voted that way. Two other Central Committee members confirmed the account.
Deputy party chief Vladimir Ivashko announced that the Politburo, which handles the party's day-to-day affairs, had rejected the idea.
The Central Committee, which sets policy for the party, overwhelmingly agreed, according to Interfax.
Thursday's criticism of Gorbachev came the day after he disclosed a new agreement with nine of the 15 republic leaders, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in which he promised new legislative and presidential elections.
On Wednesday, Gorbachev had used that deal to fend off a challenge from the party hard-liners in the first day of the two-day, closed-door meeting of top Communists in the Kremlin. His victory then made it unlikely that the hard-liners could muster a serious challenge Thursday.
If Gorbachev gave up the Communist Party leadership, he would remain president of the country.
Gorbachev's agreement with the nine republic leaders calls for an end to strikes, the rapid signing of a Gorbachev-advocated treaty on preserving the union, a new constitution within six months, then new elections. It is signed only by the nine republics that want to remain in the Soviet Union.
The agreement did not say if the presidency would be filled in a general election, leaving that for the new constitution. But Kremlin spokesman Karen Karagezian said Thursday the agreement definitely included the presidency.