The United States yesterday harshly criticized France for making a $330 million payment on a 13-year debt to Iran as part of an apparent deal leading to release of two French hostages in Beirut.

State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman indicated that the United States considered France in violation of an agreement made at last June's Venice summit that no concessions would be made to those holding hostages, to avoid encouraging further hostage-taking. The summit of seven leaders of major industrial nations included President Reagan and French President Francois Mitterrand.

{French culture and communications minister Francois Leotard contended that France did not violate any international agreements in obtaining the hostages' release, Washington Post correspondent Edward Cody reported from Paris.

{Leotard said that "no one can contest" a government's obligation to protect its citizens. "France has citizens presently threatened or deprived of liberty," he added. "It is normal that the French government use all its means and energy to save these citizens."}

The Venice agreement was made after disclosures that the Reagan administration secretly sold Iran arms in 1985-86 and offered money for the release of six Americans then being held hostage in Lebanon by pro-Iranian groups.

Redman, in response to questions about the French loan repayment, said the United States "would regret any action which would encourage more terrorism, particularly if it also prolonged the agony of other hostages."

The issue is not whether ransom was paid but whether hostage-taking was, in effect, rewarded, he added.

Redman said the French-Iranian negotiations confirmed that Iran controlled the fate of the hostages in Lebanon and also made clear that Tehran was ready "to bargain with the lives of innocent people in exchange for money and to obtain the release of its embassy employe, Mr. {Wahid} Gordji.

"For our part, we don't believe that such behavior should be rewarded," Redman added.

{British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sounded a similar theme in a speech to Parliament today that evoked surprise and resentment from many French officials and commentators, Cody reported.

{"The best defense against terrorists is to make clear that you will never give in to their demands and that will continue to be our policy," Thatcher said. The British ambassador to France met with French officials to discuss their release of Iranian Gordji, who had been confined to his embassy for five months after refusing to be questioned about bombings in France.}

After Gordji was released Monday, Iran allowed French consul Paul Torri -- accused of espionage and smuggling and holed up in the French Embassy in Tehran -- to return home.

Two French journalists, Jean-Louis Normandin and Roger Auque, were released last Friday by a pro-Iranian group in Beirut calling itself the Revolutionary Justice Organization.

Apparently French repayment of $330 million to Iran was part of the deal. It represented the second installment on a $1 billion loan the government of the late shah, overthrown in 1979, made to the French Atomic Energy Commission in 1974.

Redman made no mention of the Reagan administration's secret negotiations with Iran in 1985 and 1986, but another department spokesman said the administration realizes its earlier efforts in Iran were a "wrong policy."

{Other British officials, and London newspapers, charged improper French conduct. French officials strongly defended their actions and analysts here responded with criticism directed at London, Cody reported from Paris.

{French officials and commentators appeared particularly incensed because, they pointed out, Thatcher made no similar criticism of President Reagan when it became known he was selling arms to Iran at the same time that he was insisting on an arms embargo and decrying those who suggested dealing to win hostages' release.

{"It must be seen that he always enjoyed the greatest kindness from Mrs. Thatcher," said the newspaper Le Monde in an editorial. "The Iron Lady has always refused to condemn him, even when the mistake has been evident for a long time. Why would she be less indulgent today for {French Prime Minister Jacques} Chirac?"

{Chirac's aides told reporters they were "astounded" at the official criticism of the deal. The Foreign Ministry, joining in, indignantly denied a report in the London newspaper The Independent that Chirac also provided arms to Iran in return for the hostages' freedom.

{"One can in fact wonder what are the ulterior motives and calculations of those who inspired it," a spokesman added.}