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Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, moving to ease superpower tensions over Central America, told the United States that his government has halted its weapons shipments to Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista regime.

Gorbachev informed President Bush of the decision in a letter this month and confirmed it in conversations with Secretary of State James A. Baker III in Moscow last week, a Bush administration official said Monday night.Prior to his Moscow visit, Baker had cited Soviet support of the Sandinistas as a litmus test for U.S.-Soviet relations, questioning whether Gorbachev's deeds would live up to his words of conciliation. Bush received Gorbachev's letter before Baker went to Moscow, where the secretary of state met with Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

The United States estimated that the Soviets provided $500 million in various forms of military aid, including weapons, to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua last year. The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that Gorbachev's assurances did not foreclose delivery of other forms of military assistance besides weapons.