VENICE, JUNE 4 -- Secretary of State George P. Shultz has "adamantly" insisted to White House officials that Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams remain on the job despite admissions by Abrams that he misled Congress about secret efforts to aid the Nicaraguan contras, administration officials said today.
Shultz today telephoned senior White House officials accompanying President Reagan to the economic summit here and insisted that Abrams be given a vote of confidence, the officials said.
A spokesman for Shultz issued such a statement backing Abrams yesterday, and presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater announced today that "we share the secretary's view."
One senior official here, acknowledging the sharp attacks on Abrams' credibility this week during the Iran-contra hearings, said the White House has acquiesced to Shultz on the matter at this time. Abrams has said he will not resign.
The defense of Abrams could be politically costly to the administration's planned effort to persuade Congress later this year to renew aid to the contras. Even Republicans who praised Abrams, such as Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), said the assistant secretary may have difficulty serving as the administration's chief lobbyist for contra aid in the future.
Shultz was described as "adamant, totally adamant" that Abrams not be jettisoned following his admissions that Congress had been misled about the secret resupply missions for the Nicaraguan rebels.
When a C123 cargo plane carrying military equipment was shot down over Nicaragua last Oct. 5, Abrams repeatedly denied that the U.S. government had any role in the resupply operation.
Testimony in the Iran-contra hearings has established that fired National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North Jr. helped organize and direct the private air operation at a time when Congress had barred such aid.
Abrams acknowledged having misled Congress about the resupply effort, but said he was deceived by North on the scope of the missions.
Shultz also issued denials of U.S. involvement in the air resupply missions at the time of the plane crash and his defense of Abrams this week appears to link their fates more closely together.
On Oct. 8, Shultz said the downed aircraft was "hired by private people" who "had no connection with the U.S. government at all." He said they were "not from our military, not from any U.S. government agency, CIA included . . . . These are private citizens."
On Oct. 16, Shultz, during a trip to El Salvador, said of Eugene Hasenfus, the lone survivor of the plane crash: "There are quite a few Americans who have gone to Nicaragua to help the communists. I don't think it should be surprising there should be some Americans who want to help the contras fighting for freedom in Nicaragua. This is one of them."
White House officials said they believed the president would not ask Shultz to dismiss his subordinate despite the criticism of Abrams this week on Capitol Hill.
Abrams' continued presence on the administration team could be a major complication in its strategy to move beyond the Iran-contra affair. White House officials have said they intend to adopt a new approach, emphasizing diplomacy and the contras' goals of democratic principles, rather than the military conflict and the past actions of the White House to support it.
These officials acknowledge that support for the contras has slipped badly on Capitol Hill since the disclosures that North and others were directing the military resupply effort.
Asked today at a briefing how Abrams could effectively make the president's case, Fitzwater said he "would not enter into that kind of speculation."
"Secretary Shultz is directing our effort to carry support for the contra funding package, and he will manage that the best way he sees fit, and we totally support his efforts," Fitzwater said.
"We intend to go forward with the contra aid request, we intend to press very hard for it. Elliott Abrams is a member of the State Department team, he will be doing his job as expected and as normal," he said.
State Department sources said that if Abrams does go, most officials believe the best way to placate Congress would be to replace him with a respected and experienced career diplomat rather than someone with a strong ideological identification.
Several officials said there was considerable speculation about Harry W. Shlaudeman, currently ambassador to Brazil and the member of the Foreign Service with the broadest experience in Latin America.
Shlaudeman served under Henry A. Kissinger in the 1970s as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs. He was Reagan's special envoy for Central America and also has been ambassador to Venezuela, Peru and Argentina.