Although President Reagan has not been "a hands-on leader" in the Iran-Contra affair, he will be able to handle Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev if push comes to shove at the summit in Moscow, former president Richard M. Nixon said Monday.

"Ronald Reagan can certainly handle him as a heavyweight, provided Ronald Reagan has the kind of advice he as a leader should have as president of the United States, provided he is well-briefed," Nixon said in the second of four consecutive days on NBC.In an hourlong interview on the network's "Meet the Press" show Sunday, Nixon said the president should pardon John M. Poindexter and Oliver L. North if he believes they engineered the Iran-Contra deal to serve the presidency.

Nixon said that he regrets not absolving his own advisers for their role in the Watergate scandal.

Appearing on NBC-TV's "Today" program Monday, Nixon said there is no question there has been a tendency to underestimate Reagan "because he sometimes forgets something or doesn't handle press conferences well."

But, Nixon said, Reagan proved he could handle Gorbachev at their summit in Reykjavik, Iceland when he "finally said no when it was a bad deal."

"With what happened in the Iran-Contra thing, certainly he was not hands on," said Nixon. "He is hands on where it really matters."

The former president had stressed the necessity for such a leader in his new book, "1999," which he is promoting with the television appearances and other interviews.

Nixon said the most significant foreign policy achievement of the Reagan administration will be the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan "because it is the first time the Soviet Union has withdrawn forces from a country it invaded." Without Soviet troop support, he said, he doubts Afghanistan's communist government can survive.

Nixon, who will be appear again on "Today" Wednesday, discussed possible pardons for Poindexter and North Sunday in the most extensive of the interviews.

The former president, who was driven from office in 1974 by Watergate, said Reagan should ask himself, "Did these two men do what they did, believing, whether mistakenly or not, that they had the approval of the president, or were acting in order to serve his interests and would get that approval?

"If the president, after considering that, believes that that was the case, then he, the president, would have a good case for pardoning, because then the so-called crime would lack in intent," Nixon said.

Poindexter, the former national security adviser, and North, who served as a National Security Council aide, face charges of conspiring to divert proceeds of U.S.-Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels at a time when Congress banned military aid to the Contras.