One fairly important matter about the foreign policy of the second Reagan administration got settled in Washington this week: Jeane Kirkpatrick is not going to Washington.
The United States ambassador to the United Nations may go to Paris or some other capital as an ambassador. She may retire to private life. But she won't be going to Washington.
And that, in turn, clears up another uncertainty. President Reagan will explore possibilities for an intensive and continuing dialogue with the Soviet Union aimed at putting the relations between the two superpowers within restraining limits.
The dialogue may or may not mean Mr. Reagan will meet with Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko in Moscow or some other place of mutual choice in the foreseeable future. That sort of meeting is speculative at this time.
Matters have only reached the point of mutual agreement between Moscow and Washington that there will be another meeting between US Secretary of State George Shultz and his Soviet opposite number, Andrei Gromyko, when the working level diplomats get things in order for such a meeting.
The decision about Mrs. Kirkpatrick's future role in US foreign policymaking was crucial to the question of whether to seek a continuing and serious dialogue with the Soviets. She has been the darling of the more conservative elements in the administration who prefer confrontations over accommodations with the Soviets.
White House insiders say that she had made clear her willingness and readiness to take over the State Department from Mr. Shultz or the National Security post at the White House from Robert C. McFarland.
But over the past week the President has requested that Shultz remain at State, and Shultz has agreed to stay. State Department insiders say this has been made possible by an assurance that Kirkpatrick will not not be invited to take over at the White House from Mr. McFarland. Shultz is said to have made a better working relationship with the Soviets a prime feature of his foreign policy intentions and expectations.
So, the news that Kirkpatrick is not coming to Washington is equivalent to sending a message to Moscow saying: ''We are serious. We want to talk about serious things, including some form of arms control. We want to explore ways of managing our differences. This could include the Middle East. So, start doing some serious paper work.''
By coincidence, the news that Kirkpatrick is not going to Washington broke two days before the first anniversary of the day when the Russians walked out of the talks in Geneva on limiting nuclear weapons in Europe. There has been an intervening year of recriminations between Moscow and Washington over who has been responsible for the hiatus in the search for limits on the arms race. There has been no talking. The arch conservatives in Washington had what they wanted - no dealing with Moscow.
Now Reagan's face is set toward the possibility of dealing. The first hurdle is Moscow's own propaganda position of a year ago that it will not resume arms control talks until the new US intermediate-range nuclear weapons (the Per-
shing II and Cruise missiles) are removed from NATO bases in Europe.
Leading persons in the American foreign policymaking community, including three former presidents, have been helping to clear the way for the decisive move toward the new dialogue.
President Richard Nixon has been on the public record several times of late advocating dealing and dialogue with the Soviets, including bringing them into the Middle East question. His latest public comments appeared in a Wall Street Journal interview a few days before his two successors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, addressed a November 13-14 symposium at the University of Michigan. All three favor the resumed dialogue and spoke for it in strong terms of advocacy.
Henry Kissinger, who ran foreign policy for both Presidents Nixon and Ford, came into the operation on November 20 with a massive syndicated newspaper column asserting that ''not since the immediate postwar period has a president had such an opportunity to shape a more benign international order.''
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who ran foreign policy for Mr. Carter, is also in the act, thus assuring that leading foreign policy experts on the Democratic Party side will support, not snipe at a Reagan initiative.
In other words, the news that Kirkpatrick is not coming to Washington is the surface evidence that a broadly prepared campaign has been launched. The objective has been cleared with the leading foreign policy people on the Democratic side as well. Bipartisan support has been obtained. So, too, has the blessing of that part of the Republican Party that respects both former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Next steps are in the hands of the working-level diplomats. Mr. Gromyko in Moscow has been talking with the American ambassador there, just as Shultz is in frequent conversation with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington. The American side has proposed a broad ''umbrella'' over the dialogue as a device for getting the Soviets around their own hurdle on the Euromissile front about no-arms talks without first removal of the American weapons.
If the two sides can bring themselves to resume arms talks under such an ''umbrella,'' then they can get down to the very serious question of a possible way of blending what the Soviets want most with what the Americans want most.
The Soviets want most a ban on further development of American antisatellite weapons and antiballistic weapons in outer space (Mr. Reagan's ''star wars'' project). The Americans want most a reduction in the number of Soviet warheads that could, in theory, knock out America's land-based ICBM weapons.
Is a trade off conceivable?
That is what the parties to the talks will be exploring as Reagan's dialogue with the Soviets gets under way. So far, we are only at the threshhold of the search.