Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Throughout the year, hundreds of embassy dinners and parties are held in Washington, and while there are thousands of members of the world's diplomatic community here, only a relative few select senior diplomats - ambassadors and consuls - get invited.

So, once a year, the junior diplomats have their own party, and by all indications, it is becoming the one to attend.

"We are a lot looser," said a junior diplomat from the Czech embassy. "We know how to have fun."

And as an estimated 500 "junior dips" and guests ate food from 10 countries and watched the fireworks display from the eighth-floor balcony of the State Department, "fun" seemed the right word.

"You have social circles that are rather exclusive," said Thomas R. Maertens, whose State Department rank corresponds with that of an embassy third secretary.

"As long as I've been here," interrupted W. Joris Witkan, press secretary for the Netherlands embassy, "I've never been to a party where an ambassador was present."

"Don't worry," said Anthony Leggio, chairman for the event, "we hear we might get a secretary out here yet."

The gala was sponsored by the International Junior Diplomats of Washington, a group formed 15 years ago to help embassy employes below the rank of consul get out and meet some of their own.

"This ranking thing is arbitrary," said Witkan, "It doesn't really mean anything."

"Right," said Maertens. "For organizational reasons, you had to draw a line somewhere."

That line cuts close to the top, and distinguishes those above the rank of career minister as a senior diplomat.

"I really don't mind the distinctions," Witkan said."It's all how you feel inside about your work."

By the accounts of most junior diplomats, they are the embassies' unsung heroes, aware, for the most part, that their professional careers will be largely undistinguished and always in the shadows of the more well-known ambassadors.

"We'd all like to be senior diplomats someday," Maertens said. "But not everyone gets to be ambassador."

"What we are," said Anya Monsour, a State Department official, "are the future senior diplomats. We still have a lot to learn from the old guys, and in time we will."

To keep pace with the growth of the diplomatic community in Washington, the International Junior Diplomats is now sponsoring monthly receptions at various embassies, part of an ongoing cultural exchange program, all part of what Tuesday night's guest of honor, David E. Newsome, undersecretary of State for political affairs, called a "special bond" between diplomats - junior dips, that is.