VENICE, JUNE 11 -- President Reagan gave a lukewarm endorsement to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams today after White House officials said they informed Reagan that Abrams' continued service has imperiled further congressional support for the Nicaraguan rebels.

Abrams has admitted that he misled the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about his solicitation of $10 million from the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei to aid the rebels. Secretary of State George P. Shultz has insisted that Abrams not be jettisoned despite congressional warnings that his credibility has been damaged. Members of Congress say Abrams deceived them when he denied any U.S. government involvement in the secret airlift used to resupply the contras.

Reagan discussed Abrams and other developments in the Iran-contra hearings at an outdoor news conference after the 13th economic summit here. He also said that the dollar could fall further on international currency markets. {Details on Page A19.} It was his first formal news conference in nearly three months and since the Iran-contra hearings began.

The president also said he believed he was not covered by the Boland amendment in which Congress in 1984 and 1985 barred direct military aid to the contras. In any event, Reagan added, "I don't think that the law was broken."

The first phase of the congressional hearings has focused on whether the White House attempted to circumvent the law.

Asked about prospects for a superpower summit later this year, Reagan said, "I can't deny that I believe there is an increased opportunity" for a meeting in the United States with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Reagan ascribed Gorbachev's popularity in Western Europe to his being "the first Soviet leader, in my memory, that has ever advocated actually eliminating weapons already built and in place." Asked if he trusted Gorbachev's peaceful intentions, Reagan replied that he has "an economic problem in his own country that has been aggravated by the military buildup and all."

Today marked the first time that Reagan has personally claimed he was not covered by the Boland amendment. In earlier years, senior officials of his administration always said they were complying with the congressional restrictions. Only recently did the White House begin offering the legal interpretation that the amendment did not apply to the president or the National Security Council.

Reagan said the contras were benefiting from private individuals who sent aid "on their own," although congressional testimony has established that donors received encouragement from the White House and in some cases a thank-you session with the president.

"I did not solicit anyone ever to do that," Reagan said. "I was aware that it must be going on, of course, but never solicited either countries or the other, and would point to the law that is being cited -- one of the five versions of the Boland amendment -- that specifically suggested that the secretary of state should solicit help from our friendly countries -- friendly neighbors."

Reagan was referring to one version of the Boland amendment that permitted solicitations from third countries for humanitarian aid to the contras. Abrams has testified that he made such a solicitation for $10 million from the sultan of Brunei, but failed to disclose it in testimony last year before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He later corrected himself.

Asked about a statement by Shultz that Abrams has done a good job, Reagan gave the assistant secretary a mild endorsement. But he stopped short of offering any personal support for Abrams.

"I know the statement that was made by the secretary of state and that is the administration's position," he said. Reagan said Abrams "volunteered that he had made a misstatement."

A reporter pointed out that Abrams had also made misleading statements after a plane carrying military supplies to the rebels was shot down Oct. 5 over Nicaragua.

"I have told you, that is the administration's position," Reagan said, tightly gripping the lectern.

A senior official said White House aides have made it clear to Reagan that Abrams has become an impediment to continued aid for the rebels.

Reagan was questioned about statements from other witnesses appearing at the Iran-contra hearings, including retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord, who said they believed they were acting with Reagan's approval.

The president responded that he had heard some of the testimony and found "so much of it was hearsay." He added, 'I told you all the truth that first day after the -- everything hit the fan . . . " Reagan then recounted he had started negotiations with some Iranian factions and said the overtures had "nothing to do with the contras or the freedom fighters in Nicaragua."

Then, he said, "word had come to me that I had not been kept informed" about the diversion of funds to the rebels.

"So, evidently, maybe some people were giving the impression that they were acting on orders from me," he said. "Well, I wasn't giving those orders because no one had asked or had told me what was truly happening there."

Asked if he knew of the secret activities of fired National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North in directing military aid to the rebels, Reagan said, "No."

Reagan was also asked today about a 1985 effort to ransom the American hostages in Lebanon. Former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane has testified that Reagan approved the $2 million ransom attempt although it ran directly counter to U.S. policy on dealing with terrorists.

According to a partially declassified "top secret eyes only" National Security Council document, $500,000 was to be paid as "bribes" and the remaining $1.5 million was to be made available as soon as the hostages were released.

Reagan said, "All I knew about that particular thing was that I was told that there was something going on in which it might be possible to free one or more hostages of ours . . .

"And it wasn't until all of this exposure that I then heard that what it was about was supposedly some money for bribing some people that they thought could effect the rescue of one or more of our hostages . . . "