JIMMY CARTER, for all his compassion for the poor, does not command the political and economic resources to go around the Third World promising a grand American-led assault on world poverty. In his speech early (7:30 a.m.!) yesterday to Venezuela's legislature, he mad no such promises. Rather, prudently he underlined the American interest in continuing a "dialogue" on the establishment of "a more just international order," and he suggested that three main groups of states have distinct roles to play. The industrialized nations are to provide (mostly private) capital, technology and markets, the oil-cartel members their (surplus wealth," and the poor counties a growing measure of "responsible participation" in an evolving world economy. In brief, easy does )t: no revolutions, no sudden wrenchings, no loud shouting - an acceptance in tactics and manners of the American logic of interdependence.

It was not a presentation calculated to thrill a Third World audience. Some segments of the Third World, though not necessarily Venezuelans, prefer the United States to admit an exploiter's guilt and start coughing up "reparations." Others, more reasonably, find the United States inattentive to long-term self-interest. The Carter speech was, however, respectful of the aspirations, if not all of the anguish, of poor nations and of "middle class" nations like Venezuela. They will judge the president and the United States by performance anyway. And the speech did not take Mr. Carter into realms of expectation in which he risks being undercut at home. That way lies only the shrinking of the public support for development that Mr. Carter should be working carefully to expand.

By visiting two Latin American countries (today he is in Brazil) President Carter implicitly underlines the "special relationship" the United States has with Latin America. It is a tie that, as Venezuelan writer Carlos Rangel observes, Latin Americans are as loath to live with as they are to let go. In focusing on development, Mr. Carter at once responds to a Latin American preoccupation and reminds Latin Americans that, in Rangel's words, they are in North American eyes failed co-participants in the great joint venture of settling the New World. That is how one explains the mixture of genuine warmth and prickly pride that Mr. Carter found in Venezuela yesterday and that he will surely encounter in Brazil today.