"NO DECISION HAS been made and no deadline has been set for making that decision." Those were not the words of a "senior State Department official," but the statement of James P. Gannon, executive editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune, after yesterday's Iowa summit meeting between his paper's editorial board and Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Jerry Brown, fresh from a waterfront fund-raising event in Washington and on his way to a weekend fund-raiser at singer Linda Ronstadt's California home, took a cultural detour in hopes of convincing the Register and Tribune leadership that he knows something about corn, hogs and beef; understands that Hawkeyes were around long before Alan Alda and "MASH"; and should be included in the newspaper's Democratic presidential debate next Jan.7.

The Register and Tribune, skeptical of what it editorially called Mr. Brown's "sudden love for Iowa" after Mr. Carter and Mr. Kennedy had accepted the invitation to debate, wrote: "If Browns wants to debate in Iowa he must first show that he intends to make a genuine effort to compete for delegates in the caucuses." Those Iowa caucuses -- to be held only two weeks after the debate -- had not attracted Mr. Brown's active interest or involvement until the announcement of the Carter-Kennedy participation. It would seem that Mr. Brown's "era of limits" approach stops short of his public reaction to exclusion from any major media event. Elevating the matter to a level of cosmic significance, the California governor did not hide his upset: "I'm troubled by this concept that in a free society that I have to convince an editor [the same Mr Gannon] that I am a bona fide candidate."

Free society and Iowa have always seemed, to us, to go together -- along with the state fair and Grant Wood. It also seems reasonable to limit only to active, competing candidates invitations to participate in a candidates' two weeks before an election. Based on his spectacular showing in the later 1976 presidential primaries, however, and his remarkable electoral performance in California (neither Mr. Brown nor Mr. Kennedy has ever lost a popular election where either was listed on the ballot), Mr. Brown is most definitely a bona fide presidential candidate in the nation, if not in Iowa.

And here's the rub. Because of their first-in-the-nation status, Iowa's caucuses have joined New Hampshire's primary as more than mere state events. Both these states have struggled successfully to preserve their special places in the whole presidential-selection process. Iowa and New Hampshire have sought to hold the nation's attention and to influence the nation's decision. So probably the Register and Tribune debate should be regarded by its patrons as what it was always destined to become and has become: a national event. We would urge inclusion of Gov. Brown, while taking points off his final grade for any further muddled reference to "a free society." A free society, after all, is one in which the people who staff a debate can do what they damn please.