PRESIDENT SOMOZA'S announced decision to resign, while welcome, leaves the crisis in Nicaragua far short of solution. He has offered his resignation not to any Nicaraguan authority and certainly not to his rivals, the Sandinistas, but to the United States. And he was conditioned it on the United States' arranging for the continued life of his personal army and his personal political organization, and for an "orderly transition" to "some kind of democratic government." It can be assumed that a man as shrewd as Anastasio Somoza understands precisely how audacious such demands are for a leader who has been repudiated by his people and who seems well on the way to being defeated in battle as well. Obviously, he counts on the American distaste for the assumption of power by the "Marxist" Sandinistas to enlist American diplomacy behind his flagging cause.

It is, of course, no solution for the administration to be drawn into an effort to establish what sounds suspiciously like "Somozaism without Somoza" - which is pretty much what a guarantee of the "institutionality" of the National Guard and the Liberal Party comes down to. Even if this were in accord with the Nicaraguan people's will - and there is no evidence that it is - the United States would not be in a position to enforce it on a Nicaraguan scene dominated militarily by the Sandinistas. Rather than a final demand, Mr. Somoza's terms had best be taken as his current negotiating position. It gives American diplomats the opportunity to continue the bargaining to introduce a democratic procedure that will not be the captive of the people with guns. The United States has not only its political resources but its potential health and reconstruction to put at the service of its diplomacy.

As was true earlier, however, the best course for the United States lies in working with the other democratic states of the hemisphere that have involved themselves in Nicaragua's turmoil. That is the way to diminish the supicions of unilateral American intervention. Those states, especially close ones like Costa Rica, Venezuela and Mexico, plus Panama, have an interest even stronger than the American interest in seeing the Somoza regime replaced by a stable representative government. Their politics inhibit them from broadcasting the anxieties their leaders unquestionably feel about the possible coming to power in Managua of a narrowly based Marxist regime likely to orient itself toward Havana. But those anxieties are real and they provide the United States a discreet platform on which to concert a policy of democracy in the Americas. Those other Latin states, moreover, have leverage on the Sandinistas; they supply the Sandinista arms.