President Reagan, in an interview published today, says he "felt very badly" about criticism from former president Jimmy Carter recently and praised Carter's record on national defense.

Reagan made the remarks in an unusual telephone call to The New York Times bureau here following an interview with the newspaper Friday, during which Carter's recent criticism of him was raised.

In his 1980 campaign and throughout his presidency, Reagan has been frequently critical of Carter's decisions on national defense issues. Reagan reiterated these complaints in a nationally televised speech last month seeking further increases in the military budget.

Carter responded by saying Reagan had "habitually" misstated his record on defense and particularly on modernization of the nation's strategic forces.

On Friday afternoon, in the interview, Reagan said Carter was probably feeling "victimized" by press accounts questioning his charges.

Later that day, however, the newspaper said Reagan called back to say: "It's been bothering me all day . . . . I felt very badly about it. It's not true I'm saying those things about him."

Reagan acknowledged that Carter had accelerated military spending in 1980 and "Carter did start the MX" missile. Reagan said the only weapon Carter opposed that he had sought was the B1B bomber. However, Reagan in the past has accused Carter of slowing down or canceling weapons and neglecting the defense budget.

"I know I have made him a target on things like the economy. But on defense, I knew in his last year he himself recognized that defense was being shortchanged," he said in the phone call. Reagan also asserted that he meant to criticize Congress for shortchanging defense -- not Carter, who "misunderstood my position."

Reagan said he thought about calling Carter but decided instead to speak to him next time they meet.