Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has been invited to address a joint meeting of Congress on Dec. 9 during his summit with President Reagan, congressional and White House officials said yesterday.
A White House official who asked not to be identified said the Gorbachev address was conditioned on Soviet acceptance of a U.S. position that Reagan be allowed to make "a reciprocal speech" to the Soviet people on television "during the same general time frame." The official said that House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) agreed with the White House condition and praised the Democratic leaders for their cooperation.
The official said agreement on the two speeches would not formally become "a done deal" until the Soviets accepted the invitation for Gorbachev to address the joint meeting, but he added, "We don't expect any problem." The plan calls for Gorbachev to speak at 10 a.m. on Dec. 9, which would be 6 p.m. in Moscow, the time requested by Soviet officials in pre-summit discussions with their U.S. counterparts.
The address would be the first ever by a Communist leader to a joint meeting of Congress. It was announced on Capitol Hill by Wilson Morris, a spokesman for Wright, who said the White House had requested the joint meeting.
The White House request followed a discussion at a luncheon meeting Friday between White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and Byrd. A Democratic leadership source said that Byrd favored a Gorbachev speech and had told Baker that if the Soviet leader addressed a joint meeting the president "should be allowed to talk unedited to the Soviet people."
Byrd then discussed the proposal with Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington, sources said.
The maneuvering on the exchange of speeches came amid growing White House concern that conservative Republicans opposed to the arms control treaty that the two leaders plan to sign at the summit might use the occasion to embarrass the president and express their opposition to Gorbachev.
This concern is the reason that the White House has requested a "joint meeting," which can be called by the congressional leaders, rather than a "joint session," which requires a concurrent resolution of both houses. White House and congressional sources said that such a resolution would risk a filibuster from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and other Senate conservatives.
Yesterday, some members of a group of conservative lawmakers who met with Reagan to present their views on Central America told reporters they opposed the Gorbachev address.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said he would boycott a joint session, while Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) said that Gorbachev "has not earned the right yet to come before a joint session of Congress." Dornan said it was "unseemly" for Gorbachev even to ask for an invitation because "his government killed a U.S. congressman."
He was referring to Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.), one of 269 persons killed when a Korean Air Lines jumbo jet was shot down by a Soviet fighter over Soviet territory on Sept. 1, 1983.
Reagan also met yesterday with seven leaders of Jewish groups concerned about Soviet Jewry and three Jewish dissidents recently released from the Soviet Union. In a half-hour meeting, Reagan told them the United States would press the Soviets on the issue of Soviet emigration in summit negotiations, participants said.
A broad coalition of Jewish groups is organizing a demonstration on Dec. 6, a day before Gorbachev's arrival, to protest Soviet treatment of Jews and refusal to allow thousands of Jews to emigrate.
Staff writers Helen Dewar and John Mintz contributed to this report.