When Nikita Khrushchev dispatched Anatoliy Dobrynin to Washington in 1962, the Soviet leadership was courting a superpower confrontation, caught in a chill with China, and avoiding Japan altogether.

Twenty-four years later, a new Soviet leader is forging a new course in relations with the United States, China, Japan and around the globe, and by most accounts, Dobrynin will be returning to the Soviet capital to help 55-year-old Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev maneuver through the newly charted waters.

Dobrynin, the dean of the Washington diplomatic corps and a longtime Central Committee member, was appointed today as one of 11 secretaries of the powerful 307-member body.

Although Soviet officials have not yet outlined his duties, Eastern European sources said he will take full charge of the Central Committee's International Department. Directing a newly structured section, they said, he will replace two men: former department head Boris Ponomarev and Konstantin Rusakov, who was the liaison with socialist countries.

As such, the 66-year-old career diplomat will be charged with heightening the role of the Communist Party as a policy-maker and forging a complicated array of new foreign policy initiatives launched by Gorbachev, according to western analysts here.

How his job will bear on that of 57-year-old Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is unclear, but some Soviet sources indicated that Dobrynin's appointment marks the emergence of his department in the Central Committee Secretariat as the key foreign policy formulating organ. The Foreign Ministry, they said, will act principally to implement policy.

Praising Dobrynin's service in Washington in a briefing today, government spokesman Leonid Zamyatin said, "He is highly appreciated, . . . but no one is irreplaceable."

According to senior diplomats here, the short list to replace Dobrynin includes Yuli Vorontsov, the Soviet envoy in Paris, and Victor Komplektov, a deputy foreign minister.

Both speak English, are ranked among the top Americanists in the Soviet Union, and have served in Washington -- under Dobrynin.

In the scramble for tips as to who will take the top job in the Soviet foreign service, party congress delegates sent out a strong hint yesterday: They elected Komplektov a candidate Central Committee member.