Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's criticism of a tough speech by President Reagan last week was "most unfortunate" and "needlessly inflammatory," the White House said Tuesday.

Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was asked to comment on reports that Gorbachev had complained to Secretary of State George P. Shultz about the speech during a meeting in Moscow.According to a Tass account of the meeting, Gorbachev took Reagan to task for criticizing Soviet policy in Afghanistan and on human rights in a speech Reagan delivered Thursday in Springfield, Mass.

In that speech, Reagan questioned whether the Soviets had abandoned "ambitions" to control Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan, despite the recent Geneva accord outlining the Soviet pullout. The president also said the Soviets could "never have truly normal relations" with the United States as long as it violated human rights.

"President Reagan's comments on East-West relations in his Springfield, Mass., speech obviously struck a raw nerve with the general secretary," Fitzwater said when asked to respond to Gorbachev's comments.

"The very harsh rhetoric used by Tass to describe the president's speech is most unfortunate. We trust it does not signal a move away from the steadily improving relations that the Soviet Union has espoused in its recent past," Fitzwater said.

Asked why it had been appropriate for Reagan to use tough language in describing Soviet actions, but not for Gorbachev to do the same, Fitzwater said, "It seemed needlessly inflammatory."

The spokesman contended that Reagan's comments signaled no change in U.S. policy and defended the speech as "accurate in terms of the way we view Soviet intentions" in countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.