The defense for Oliver North underscored its argument that Ronald Reagan should testify, showing through a Justice Department witness that the former president was never questioned by the attorney general's staff about arms shipments to Iran in 1985.

But Reagan objected Wednesday to the possibility of having to appear at North's trial, saying through his lawyer that it hasn't been shown his testimony is needed.The same day that Reagan made his objection, Justice Department official Charles Cooper said the attorney general's aides never followed through with plans to interview Reagan about the November 1985 shipment of Hawk missiles from Israel to Iran.

The CIA had arranged for an agency-run airline to handle the shipment, which took place without prior presidential approval. Reagan signed a finding of approval after the weapons were delivered.

Cooper said the fact-finding mission in November 1986 on the administration's secret Iran arms initiative was "overwhelmed" when North confirmed on Nov. 23, 1986, that money had been diverted to the Contras.

"Did anybody think to ask, `Why not ask the president what he knows' " about the 1985 arms shipment? defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan asked Cooper.

"The decision was made to interview the president after we had interviewed" everyone else with knowledge of the shipment, Cooper replied.

The 1985 Hawk shipment "receded in its importance" on Nov. 22, 1986, said Cooper, when aides to then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III discovered a North memo outlining a planned diversion of money to the Contras.

The diversion of Iran arms sale money to the Contras "had the potential to bring the conclusion of President Reagan's term," said Cooper.

North is accused of obstructing Congress by preparing a false chronology that stated no one in the U.S. government knew until January 1986 that the 1985 shipment contained arms.