IT SEEMS characteristic of Jimmy Carter that he addressed not only his fellow Americans but - separately - "citizens of the world" in his inaugural the other day. And, just as he construed Americans as a single value-bound community, so he construed these "citizens" not as allies or adversaries or representatives of this region or that race, but rather as partners in a common enterprise, living otgether on a single globe. In his directness ("you will be affected by my decisions") and in his theme ("to shape a world order that is more responsive to human operations"), he was entirely himself. He was asserting an American attitude of renewed confidence in this country's capacity to be guided by its values and not strictly by its "interests" as it makes its way in the world.

Many foreigners, no doubt, will be unimpressed by this rhetoric. The familiarity of the faces in the President's national security hierarchy suggests to them that the policy will be familiar, too, or at least within the known range of what they have come to think of as the postwar consensus - Vice President Mondale's round-the-world trip starting today will, usefully, let some of them take their own first. Some foreigners also believe American policy flows deterministically from what they tke to be the flawed nature of American society. And it will be noted by some that, notwithstanding Mr. Carter's failure to pledge continuity, the American people's post-Vietnam cautiousness and the inhibitions imposed by the American economy will tend to limit new initiatives.

We think that, on the contrary, possibilities of change exist. And we also think that Mr. Carter, from a slow start, has become progressively aware of them. He cannot magically transform the country's leverage in its various bargaining situations: SALT, the Mideast, the North-South economic dialogue, and so on. But he can reduce the self-created obstacles that so often clogged the oldadministration's way.

His unprecedented pre-inaugural all-day meetings with Congress and the Joint Chiefs suggest one route: close consultation with the principal domestic participants in the creation of foreign policy. The appointment to public affairs posts in key agencies of journalists known for their probing suggests another. Presumably this is a harbinger of fuller and franker consultation with the public. Mr. Carter's own evident disposition to judge third-country situations more on their merits, and not just in terms of their suspected impact on Soviet perceptions, should give him more flexibility in both the conception and excution of policy. The initial emphasis he intends to place on domestic affairs, and especially on the economy, can have the same double impact. And as he says, his own domestic acts will surely affect other countries' regard.

Is President Carter implicitly overpromising? We sense a broad disposition to take the Carter presidency as an occasion for a certain new beginning, or as a time for building on the not insubstantial foundation laid down before. Very few nations, after all, wish the United States to be humiliated, or expect it to abandon its interests, or want it to abandon its responsibilities. They want the American government to act fairly and with a sense of its own limitations and of the legitimacy of the interests of others. This will not bring the millenium. It will bring a better world. It is within Jimmy Carter's reach.