An unsettling situation has been brewing in the Middle East. On Aug. 21 Iran announced it had begun to fuel nuclear plants for civilian energy and on Aug. 22, Iran accounted that it created its own long range drone bomber called "the ambassador of death." On Sept. 6, Iran refused to provide UN inspectors with the information and access they need to determine whether the real purpose of Tehran's program is to produce weapons.
Under international law, Iran has the right to peaceful civilian nuclear energy. The problem is that virtually the entire international community doesn't trust Iran not to make a jump from nuclear energy to nuclear weapons. There is ample circumstantial evidence to suggest that Iran is pursuing a weapons program.
A nuclear-armed Iran will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and will embolden Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran, however, likely wouldn't give nukes to these organizations. Doing so would be a huge concession of power that can't be controlled and if nukes are used by terrorist organizations, it would blow back on Iran.
So, should we negotiate with Iran or is it time to bomb them?
Let me state the obvious; no one wants a nuclear armed Iran. However, when you consider the pros and cons of an attack on Iran, there is no easy answer.
The most glaring problem with an attack is that we don't know where all of Iran's nuclear sites are located. If we strike on the sites we know of, it gives Iran reason to create a nuclear deterrent at the sites we don't know of and don't hit.
Also, an attack on Iran would quickly unify the moderates and the hardliners against the U.S. We must avoid giving moderate Iranians who don't like their current government - but who are very nationalistic - a reason to rally against the U.S.
What of negotiation?
While Iran could use the time to further advance a weapons program, if the U.S. doesn't negotiate, fear and misunderstanding are further pushing Iran towards the weapons option.
It is important to remember successful examples of negotiation with enemies from four presidents.
President Reagan invited Soviet President Gorbachev to a nuclear arms reduction summit without preconditions in March 1985; the two successfully negotiated reducing nuclear arms throughout Reagan's second term. President George H.W. Bush peacefully negotiated the fallout of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Under Bill Clinton, negotiation ended North Korea's nuclear aspirations, albeit temporarily. And after nine months of clandestine negotiation, under President George W. Bush, the U.S. negotiated with Moammar Ghadafi to give up Libya's nuclear program.
Absent a U.S. presence, rogue nations or groups may further align themselves with Iran, and competitors, such as Russia or China, may develop a greater influence in the region than the U.S. Each of these scenarios is bad for U.S security. Moreover, the U.S. should initiate a dialogue with Iran before Israel strikes Iran's known nuclear sites - as it did with Syria in 2007 and Iraq in 1981.
Sanctions and the lack of dialogue are not working; Iran is continuing its nuclear energy program, which could be converted to make nuclear weapons. However, Iranians and others from the region tell me Iran wants recognition and legitimacy as a regional power more than nuclear weapons. This is a point that can be worked with through negotiation.
If there was an easy answer, President Bush or now President Obama would have pursued it. As this situation unfolds, remember diplomacy and negotiation are important tools in international affairs that should not be looked down upon by those who endorse their use before use of force.
PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro lived and worked in the Middle East. He holds a master's in international relations from the London School of Economics and is a candidate at Harvard's JFK School of Government for a master's of public administration.