Difficulties between a US ambassador to the United Nations and the State Department in Washington are nothing new. Several persons in the UN post (Warren Austin, Adlai Stevenson, Andrew Young) have seemed to think that they had a policymaking role which can depart from State Department plans and purposes. Mrs. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick is in this category.
She has been pursuing a vigorous pro-Argentine role at the UN while the State Department and White House have supported the British, both physically with oil and other war supplies, and politically by supporting the British position that Argentina committed an act of aggression which can be purged only by an unconditional withdrawal of its forces from the Falkland Islands.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick felt so strongly about the pro-British line of the State Department that she telephoned Secretary of State Haig. All reports agree that the exchange crackled with disagreement and lasted for 45 acrimonious minutes.
Failing to get satisfaction from Secretary Haig, Mrs. Kirkpatrick then requested a meeting at the White House with the President.
It took place on May 31, a holiday, when the President was planning as little nonceremonial business as possible. White House foreign policy adviser William P. Clark was said to have been the only other person present at the unusual meeting. No report on what transpired at the White House meeting has come out at the time this is being written.
One point Mrs. Kirkpatrick has made about her differences with Secretary Haig is that she represents the President, not the State Department, at the UN. Technically this is true. All US ambassadors are the President's personal representatives to the country or countries to which they are accredited. In theory they take their orders directly from the President and report directly to him.
But when a president delegates prime responsibility over foreign policy to his secretary of state, then an ambassador takes the president's instructions through the secretary of state, which is what normally happens. It is the only way which can make for coherent and consistent foreign policy.
The last previous example of a US ambassador to the UN getting into serious trouble with the State Department came when Andrew Young, now mayor of Atlanta, was President Carter's man at the UN. Mr. Young attended a supposedly private meeting with the representative at the UN of the Palestine Liberation Organization - the PLO. The Israeli government protested that the deed violated a promise made when Henry Kissinger was secretary of state that the US would not deal with the PLO unless or until it agreed to recognize the existence of Israel.
Mr. Young had to resign as ambassador to the UN even though he was the major link between the President and the black political community. He had been important in bringing a heavy majority of black votes to Mr. Carter in the 1976 election campaign.
Like Mr. Young, Mrs. Kirkpatrick is something more than just another UN ambassador. Mrs. Kirkpatrick is the last important representative of the neo-conservative political movement in the administration.
The neo-conservatives have a detailed foreign policy of their own. Their philosophical leader is Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary Magazine. Mr. Podhoretz printed Mrs. Kirkpatrick's views on Latin America in his magazine and then recommended those views and Mrs. Kirkpatrick to the President. She is his intellectual protege and in effect the representative inside the administration of his views and those of the movement which he largely leads.
The Podhoretz body of policy is vigorously anti-Soviet and pro-Israel, pro-Latin American ''authoritarians.'' Neo-conservatives wanted a strong policy of economic sanctions against the Soviets over the suppression of Solidarity in Poland. In effect, they favor a ''rollback'' policy against the Soviets. They regard with suspicion and disapproval the new approach to the Soviets on nuclear weaponry.
This policy is increasingly in conflict with the policy which Mr. Reagan is now in Europe to espouse. Ambassador Kirkpatrick has often found herself at odds with the third world nations at the UN. Now she seems to be at odds with her own government's policy as well.