The Soviet Union ended nearly seven years of exile for leading dissident Andrei D. Sakharov today and pardoned his wife, Yelena Bonner, allowing them to return to Moscow from the closed city of Gorky.
Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky said that Sakharov, 65, a physicist who developed the Soviet H-bomb but then condemned nuclear testing and embraced the cause of human rights, had asked Soviet leaders for permission to live and work in Moscow and that his request was granted.
Sakharov, winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, was banished to Gorky in January, 1980, after criticizing the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan a month earlier.
His wife joined him in Gorky, but she was able to return to Moscow on visits until 1984, when she was convicted of anti-Soviet slander and confined to Gorky. Sakharov never has been charged with a crime.
Petrovsky told reporters that Bonner, 63, was pardoned by the Supreme Soviet, the national parliament, so she could accompany her husband to the capital.
The Supreme Soviet also approved Sakharov's request to go back to his job in the Academy of Sciences.
Yevgeni Velikhov, vice president of the Academy, said he welcomed Sakharov's return to work at the prestigious institute, from which he had never been excluded by the Kremlin even during his exile.
"We of course look forward to his more active involvement in scientific and academic duties of the physics institute in Moscow," Velikhov said. "He has always been a member of the Academy."
A family friend who lives in Moscow said Sakharov told him in a telephone conversation this afternoon that he and Bonner will arrive "in the early or middle part of next week" from the industrial city 250 miles east of the capital.
Sakharov's exile was ended one week after longtime dissident Anatoly Marchenko, 48, died in a Soviet prison camp in Chistopol after a four-month hunger strike.
'To Improve . . . Image'
In New York, recently released Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov told "CBS Morning News" that Marchenko's death hastened Sakharov's release. "It simply is essential to improve the regime's image," Orlov said.
But in Vienna, Yuri Kashlev, chief Soviet delegate to the follow-up conference on the Helsinki accord on human rights and European security, said the release of Sakharov indicated a dramatic shift in Soviet human rights policy.
"It is the result of a new line in these humanitarian questions," Kashlev said. "It's not only external things, but internal things too."
Sakharov has a heart condition, and Bonner has suffered heart, leg and eye ailments. She was allowed to spend six months in the West, including the United States, for treatment and returned last June. An element in the decision to end their banishment could have been the fact that better medical treatment is available in Moscow.
Sakharov, the most celebrated dissident left in the Soviet Union after this year's departure of Anatoly Shcharansky to Israel and the 1974 exiling to the West of author Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, has been a constant source of East-West tensions.
Honored by Reagan
His name has been mentioned in possible spy swaps, and President Reagan celebrated May 21 as Andrei Sakharov Day in honor of the dissident's 65th birthday.
U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Arthur A. Hartman hailed the release.
"This is a wonderful development and one we should applaud," he said while noting that other Soviet dissidents are still in prison or labor camps.
Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland immediately extended an offer to the Sakharovs to settle in Norway, which awarded him the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.
Soviet officials have indicated that Sakharov probably would not be allowed to emigrate because of his knowledge of state scientific secrets.
But in Washington, Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin indicated today that Sakharov may be free to travel abroad and to publish.
'No Exceptions for Him'
"There are no exceptions for him as to the rights of a Soviet citizen," Dubinin said at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy.
The Soviets often grant scientists permission to attend conferences abroad. Sakharov has never indicated that he would not return home from such meetings.
Sakharov was last heard from in September when he smuggled out letters to reporters and others in Moscow, including one to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev seeking the release of Marchenko and 11 other dissidents.
Bonner had said she thought that the KGB might drive Sakharov to suicide during their exile in Gorky.
In a book she wrote last year while in the United States, she said the KGB constantly tailed her and Sakharov, deflated the tires of their cars and once put a cockroach in Sakharov's mail.