NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal judge on Monday forbade the destruction of government documents concerning the shipment of U.S. weapons to Iran.

U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand issued the order at the request of a defense lawyer in the case of 13 people accused of illegally trying to smuggle $2 billion in advanced U.S.-made weaponry to Iran.

''No person employed by the U.S. government, regardless of agency ... is to destroy, conceal or alter any document which relates to the shipment of arms to Iran'' either from the United States or any other country, Sand said.

The request for a protective order on the documents came in light of news reports last week that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North may have destroyed some documents relating to the arms shipments.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, quoting sources familiar with the case, said in its Tuesday editions that Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and the CIA had approved prosecution in the sting operation.

Sand's order came near the end of a pretrial hearing which was adjourned at government request.

''My office knows of no facts why this case should not proceed,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorna Schofield in asking for a 10-day delay of the hearing. But she said it was ''our responsibility to evaluate'' recent disclosures about government-sanctioned arms shipments to Iran, from which some of the proceeds found their way into a Swiss bank account for Nicaraguan rebels known as Contras.

Ms. Schofield did not specifically mention the sanctioned arms shipments or the Contra fund but said, ''We are attempting to review this entire situation in light of recent disclosures.''

Louis Aidala, attorney for defendant Hans Bihn, told Sand he would ''like to hear from the government's own lips'' that their review included ''considering dismissing the charges.''

Sand told Aidala to draw his own conclusions.

North was fired a week ago from the staff of the National Security Council following the disclosure that up to $30 million from the arms deal with Tehran had been funneled to the Contra rebels. In addition, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter had resigned as national security adviser.

Bihn, of West Germany, was among 13 people indicted earlier this year in five separate alleged plots to ship U.S. weapons, including jet fighters and missles, to Iran.

The defendants, including a London-based American lawyer and a retired Israeli general, have maintained they were told White House officials sanctioned the arms sales, which were never completed.

But prosecutors have denied there are records of any such agreement and claimed the defendants were caught in a government ''sting'' operation.

The Post quoted sources as saying the U.S. Customs Service and Rudolph W. Guiliani, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, consulted with Meese, Shultz and CIA officials shortly before seeking an indictment in the case last April to make sure prosecutors were not running afoul of any sanctioned government operation.

They were told there was no problem with prosecuting the case, the newspaper's sources said.