A Bush administration official expressed surprise at Soviet statements that the Kremlin would not object if Hungary chose to leave the Warsaw Pact or East Germany chose to reunite with West Germany.

Assistant Secretary of State Raymond G. Seitz said Sunday the remarks by Soviet party spokesman Nikolai Shishlin on Hungary and the Warsaw Pact indicated a new Kremlin policy."I found his description about what the commitment to the Warsaw Pact was rather surprising," Seitz said Sunday on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" program. "He seemed to suggest that there was choice involved," Seitz said.

"That would be welcome news, if it is correct. But that is not what the Soviet government has been saying," Seitz said.

Previously, Soviet and Hungarian officials have stressed that Hungary would stay in the Kremlin-led Warsaw Pact military alliance.

The statements by Shishlin and Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov followed a declaration by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev last week that his nation had no moral right to interfere with changes under way in the Soviet bloc nations of Eastern Europe.

Gorbachev also declared a willingness to dissolve the Warsaw Pact if the West disbands the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a step the Bush administration has rejected as an effort to cut U.S. influence in Europe.

Shishlin, appearing on ABC, was asked whether the Soviet Union would object if Hungary decided to leave the Warsaw Pact.

"We respect the Hungarian choice, anyhow. We are not afraid of these changes," said Shishlin.

Asked whether Hungary was "free to leave the Warsaw Pact," Shishlin replied: "Surely. But you know that Hungarian officials declared that they are ready to be in the Warsaw Pact, until now."

In 1956, a declaration by Hungarian leader Imre Nagy that his nation would quit the alliance prompted Soviet military intervention. In recent months, reform leaders elected to power in Hungary and Poland have declared their intention to remain in the Soviet alliance.

Shishlin also appeared to leave the door open to reunification of West and East Germany, which have been divided since World War II. The U.S. and West German governments historically have favored unification, but the East German and Soviet governments have not.

In light of the turmoil in East Germany, Shishlin said: "Nobody can predict what will happen. And I am sure that this situation should be changed and it will be changed."

"How will it be changed?," Shishlin was asked.

"By the right of choice," he replied.

"Everything depends on the Germans. But it is necessary to understand our interests, not to destabilize the situation in Europe," he said. "Let us wait a little bit, and I think we will find a new situation."