Of course the United Nations has not measured up to hopes for a global conflict-resolving forum. But there remains such a thing as a world view, a ''general assembly'' of nations in the broadest sense, where debate and explanation can help ease tension among the world's peoples.
And the United Nations remains one of the best stages for that purpose. At least it's the one we have. And New York City is where it is.
Thus we're troubled by the efforts to make the Soviet foreign minister's arrival by plane at the United Nations difficult, and the suggestion by a US delegate that UN member states ''seriously consider removing themselves and this organization from the soil of the United States.'' If the non-Soviet world is outraged that the Soviets would not ensure the safety of a commercial jet in Soviet airspace, consistency argues that arrival and departure of travelers in all parts of the world, including the New York metropolitan area, must also be guaranteed. The incivility of suggesting UN members can pull out, if they dislike the way the US hosts the world body, should be rebuked.
When President Reagan speaks to the General Assembly on Monday, Sept. 26, he has a lot to do. His expected rebuff to the Soviets for the KAL 007 downing would have been more effective, more dramatic - if rhetorical confrontation is what the administration seeks - with Foreign Minister Gromyko of the Soviet Union sitting there listening.
Yet even this should be only a sideplay, not the central theme of the 38th session. The jetliner incident, tragic and revealing as it is, has become an international high pressure force, shouldering aside other issues.
Superpower push and shove should not dominate world attention at this time.
A reasoned laying out of world priorities and demands would be a greater service.
Civil strife in Lebanon smolders. US marines could be held there indefinitely. A pullout, without a ceasefire and settlement, might mean a bloodbath of Christians, all parties fear. Marines were put there on the premise of a short stay. It's been a year now. This week, the US stepped up its use of naval firepower, defending Lebanese army operations, not just marines. This is escalation. Has the President told Americans of the risks of ever-rising US involvement in Lebanon, as de facto partition takes hold? The administration may settle for an l8-month pact with Congress, conceding the Lebanon deployment should be covered by the War Powers Act. This is the obvious compromise - though a six-month agreement might make even more sense, despite the chance that Lebanon could come up for Washington debate as the political primary season is running.
Central America too needs another word from Mr. Reagan. Is the administration really bent on a ''military'' solution rather than a negotiated settlement, as some take recent statements to suggest? A little over a month ago, Central America was pictured by the White House as the dominant world threat, centerpiece for its spring and summer initiatives. It hardly inspires confidence for the world public to see policies pulsate and fade as events elsewhere distract attention.
Then there's the Iran-Iraq war, and safety of the world oil flow. The World Bank warns that Africa needs to redirect its priorities, reverse its food programs that have made it the only part of the world where food output is falling behind population growth. Does anyone care what the larger agenda should be at the moment for the assembly of nations? The larger agenda needs to be articulated, and the place for it is the United Nations.
The world would like to hear the Soviets explain their side of the KAL 007 tragedy. The latest Soviet assertion that the South Korean airliner coordinated its flight with a US intelligence satellite's path may be scoffed at or believed. The truth will be weighed.
Meanwhile, Vice President Bush has been saying in Europe that arms talks with Soviet leaders would continue ''in good faith.'' US grain sales to the Soviet Union have been soaring. Both tell a good deal about a common sense followup to the jetliner tragedy obscured by the diplomatic bickering.
A Reagan-Andropov summit, which should be held if there is reason to think it would be productive, also will be scrubbed unless the war of words subsides. It appears each side is trying to set the other up as the spoiler for such a summit.
World problems remain too serious for shows of pique.
President Reagan's speech next week in New York, his first at the UN since Feb. 17, 1982, is the time and place to say so.