The U.S. government, which hopes for world peace through complicated negotiations at the United Nations, can't even negotiate fair rent for apartments of U.N. workers.

The State Department's inspector general issued a report saying the U.S. mission to the United Nations spends $2 million a year on Manhatten apartments so 40 employees ranging from diplomats to secretaries may live in comfort.That averages to $50,000 a year per apartment - which the report says is "excessively expensive" even for high-priced New York City.

The inspector general said many of the apartments are in buildings where identical units are available for up to $12,000 a year less. They also include some swanky Fifth Avenue addresses - such as one $230,000 suite at the fashionable Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Thirteen of the employees even have the government pay more for their rent than it pays for their salaries. Several also submitted "extravagant" bills for maintenance - such as one who claimed utility bills of $7,139 a month.

Such news cannot exactly strike Communist and Third World countries with awe of the great Yankee negotiators. If New York landlords can take the U.S. government to the cleaners, what can foreign ambassadors do to it?

Some corrective steps are obvious, and were recommended by the inspector general. They include buying a residence for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to end his expensive rent, looking for cheaper units for other employees and kicking some employees off the government's rent program.

But the State Department shouldn't overlook the obvious training possibility. Before a U.S. diplomat is assigned to the United Nations, he should show he can find fair rent for a New York apartment. If he passes, he's ready for the Soviets and the Chinese - and could save U.S. taxpayers some money.