Former National Security Council aide Oliver L. North tried without success to get the Israeli government to "accept responsibility" for the diversion of Iranian arms sales profits to aid the Nicaraguan contras just two days before Attorney General Edwin Meese III made the transactions public last November, according to the report of the congressional Iran-contra investigating committees.

Marine Lt. Col. North wrote in a previously unreleased Nov. 23, 1986, entry in his daily notebooks that he made his suggestion to Amiram Nir, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres' special assistant for counterterrorism. North wrote that Nir rejected the request saying: "I cannot back this story."

Nir, according to the Israeli Historical Chronology given the House and Senate committees, was "astonished by North's request."

The North-Nir exchange provides a new illustration of both the close relationship that existed between the U.S. and Israeli governments during the secret Iran-contra affair and the tension that developed after its public disclosure.

From the moment it became public, officials for the two governments have gone back and forth, blaming each other for starting the Iran initiative.

"The Israelis strongly advocated the {Iran} initiative, viewing it as a joint U.S.-Israel operation," the congressional committees concluded in their report, which was released last week.

The Israelis "were willing to give the United States deniability," by accepting responsibility for the arms sales if they became public, the report said. The report added, however, that the Israelis would take the blame only "so long as it did not subject them to criticism by Congress and the secretary of state was fully informed," two conditions that did not exist.

The two sides still disagree on the diversion, which the White House has treated as the affair's most damaging issue.

In his Nov. 25, 1986, news conference, Meese used information given him by North and pointed to "representatives of Israel" as responsible for selling the U.S. arms to Iran and then transferring excess profits to the contras.

Three hours after his news conference, Meese received a telephone call from Peres who complained about Meese's remarks and explained "that the Iranians paid directly into an account in Switzerland maintained by an American company," according to Meese's notes of the conversation.

Peres also "indicated that Israel -- which had been asked by U.S. officials early on to take the rap if arms sales became public -- was not going to take the blame for the diversion," according to the congressional report.

The committees in their report also pointed out that the story Meese told "was contradicted by the diversion memorandum," which Justice Department officials had discovered earlier in North's NSC files. The memo described the diversion in the exact terms used by Peres, the committees said.

The report also contains conflicts over the origins of the idea for the diversion.

North told Meese on Nov. 23, 1986, that it was Nir who first broached the idea in late 1985 or early 1986. In his public testimony, however, North attributed the notion to Iranian intermediary Manucher Ghorbanifar.

The Israelis, in their chronology, reported that North proposed using excess funds from planned sale of TOW antitank missiles to Iran "to support pragmatists in Iran." He told the committees in his testimony that he believed the Israelis were already using funds from their arms sales "for covert purposes."

North's colleague in the Iran-contra affair, retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord, testified that the first diversion occurred in early December 1985, when $800,000 sent to a Swiss bank account by the Israelis that was supposed to be used in a Hawk antiaircraft missile sale was not needed for that shipment and instead was spent on the contras.

Secord said North had received Israeli permission for that transaction. The Israeli chronology reported "North and Secord told the Israelis only that the money was needed for shipping expenses," according to the congressional report.

At a Dec. 6, 1985, meeting with Israeli military purchasing officials in New York, North said he needed funds for the contras and intended to divert profits from the arms sold to Iran for that purpose, according to the notes of one of the Israelis present at the meeting. However, the Israeli chronology reported that two other officials at that meeting did not recall North's comment.

The diversion was not the only event during the two-year Iran-contra affair in which the U.S. and Israeli roles remain clouded. Questions remain about Israel's full role because Israel refused to permit its citizens to be directly questioned by congressional investigators. Instead, the committees allowed Israel to provide the secret chronology, which, though referred to in the final report, was not subjected to detailed examination because it arrived well after the hearings had ended.

The chronology itself has apparent gaps when compared with testimony to other committees.

For example, the report traces the use of the ship "Erria" to carry a shipment of Israeli-provided arms for the contras, an event not even mentioned in the Israeli chronology, according to congressional sources.

The ship was purchased in April 1986 with Iranian arms profits by Secord to handle covert operations. On Oct. 13, 1986, according to the report, the ship picked up a crate containing eight tons of East bloc arms at the Israeli port of Haifa for shipment to the contras.

The weapons, the report said, had been promised to North by Nir. Two months later when the crate was opened it was found to contain "600 well-used AK47 assault rifles and 15 cases of ammunition -- valued at approximately $100,000 -- a cargo not worth transporting to Central America," according to the panels.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzak Rabin denied reports by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he offered "a significant quantity" of East bloc arms for contra use last year.

Accounts also conflict over what befell U.S. pilots who, on Nov. 24, 1985, delivered 18 Israeli Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Iran.

The pilots, employes of a CIA-owned firm, reported cordial treatment in Tehran, even "a warm sendoff" that included caviar. They promised to return with more missiles. One pilot even ordered a carpet from a local rug merchant, to be picked up on the next flight.

But Israel's chronicle says the Iranians were angered by the shipment, "the Iranian prime minister impounded the aircraft, crew and missiles," and only Israeli intercession freed the plane and crew.