After their news desk reported on the IAEA’s conclusion that Iran has acted with malice in hiding its nuclear-weapons program, one might have expected the New York Times editorial board to put the blame on …. well, Iran. Instead, and predictably, today’s editorial blames the Bush administration for not trying hard enough to bribe the Iranians into ending its quest for nukes. Five of its eight paragraphs scold the White House while only criticizing Iran in one:

Amid all of the White House’s saber-rattling, it is tempting to discount Iran’s genuine misbehavior. The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is a grim reminder that Tehran is pressing ahead with its nuclear program, and the United States and its allies don’t have a strategy for containing it. …

This latest report is alarming, but it must not be used as an excuse by Washington hard-liners to launch another war. There are no good military options.

The United States and the other major powers — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — have yet to put together a serious package of incentives and sanctions that might persuade Iran to change course.

That must include a credible American offer of security guarantees and normalized relations if Tehran abandons any nuclear weapons ambitions. If Iran persists, it must face sanctions with a lot more bite than Russia and China have been willing to consider, including a broader ban on doing business with Iranian banks and bans on arms sales and new investments in Iran.

As with Barack Obama, who makes the same allegations repeatedly from the campaign trail, the New York Times demonstrated ignorance in this editorial. The EU-3 have held repeated talks with the Iranians, and since they represent Iran’s major Western trading partners, their influence allows them better leverage with Tehran. Moreover, the US has publicly backed EU offers that included everything the NYT and Obama claim to be necessary to convince the mullahcracy to give up nukes. That included security guarantees, WTO membership, and normalized diplomatic relations — and have since 2005.

As I noted last November when Obama first began blaming the Bush administration for not offering a diplomatic solution, in May 2005 our public endorsement of a comprehensive EU package salvaged diplomatic engagement — briefly:

The US threw a lifeline to Europe’s attempts to keep negotiations alive over Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomats said on Thursday, by giving a green light to Tehran’s bid to start World Trade Organisation membership talks.

During an EU-Iranian meeting in Geneva this week, the British delegation, led by Jack Straw, foreign secretary, made last-minute phone calls to convince Washington that it was important to maintain a common front towards Tehran.

“It was a last-minute thing that could have broken down if the Americans had stepped back [from their commitment on the WTO],” one diplomat told the Financial Times.

After the US confirmed that it would lift its perennial veto on WTO accession talks, Tehran agreed to maintain a freeze on its nuclear programme until early August, by which time France, Germany and the UK will produce new proposals for a settlement.

The New York Times never bothered to report on this development, nor does Obama even acknowledge the fact that we have offered everything he has suggested, to no avail. In this event, the Iranians resumed their enrichment process in July 2005 after snubbing the EU-3 offer. Since then, the US has done exactly what the Gray Lady recommends here, which is progressively tighter sanctions — which Democrats opposed at the time.

At the heart of this nonsense lies a belief that Iran means no harm to anyone. Obama, the NYT, and many Democrats believe that Iran just wants to trade openly and have normal diplomacy with the world, and as soon as we offer that the Iranians will stop building nuclear weapons. For some reason, 29 years of terrorist sponsorship and low-level war against the West has escaped their notice, as have the public offers to deliver normalized trade and diplomacy. The mullahcracy isn’t building a bomb to get free trade; they want to use it to extend hegemony over the entire Middle East, and not for benign purposes, either.

Such foolishness has been the hallmark of the Times for years, but we can hardly afford it in the White House. Having tea with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not end the Iranian threat to our national interests in the region.