Aid Groups Hope The U.S. Will Use The "Post-Iran Deal World" To Help Syria
"Think of how much time went into thrashing out the Iran deal," one advocate said. "The same amount of time and energy needs to go into ending this war."
Humanitarian groups said Tuesday they hope the recent surge of global attention on the refugee crisis and new political links forged during the Iran nuclear deal negotiations will reignite global diplomatic efforts to end Syria's civil war.
Four years of failed peace efforts have given way to an estimated 200,000 people killed in Syria's conflict, as well as more than four million refugees. But humanitarian groups believe that the recently-settled Iran nuclear deal could have laid the political groundwork for a critical change in global diplomacy.
"We are living in a different world in the Middle East because we have the Iran deal," Paul O'Brien, Oxfam America's vice president for policy and campaigns, told reporters.
O'Brien and others believe that now the Iran deal is certain to be implemented, the U.S. has an opportunity to build off the several years of hard fought negotiations with Iran and six world powers to find a political solution to the war.
"Now that the deal is behind us," said Mercy Corps Vice President of Global Engagement and Policy Andrea Koppel, "our hope is that the Obama administration will see this as an opportunity to leverage this new relationship with Iran for the betterment of the Syrian crisis."
International political efforts to end Syria's suffering have stalled since a global conference in Geneva in January 2014 failed to result in any concrete new peace plans.
Iran and Russia, which was also part of the nuclear talks, have served as the main supporters of the Assad regime.
As Koppel sees it, while nuclear talks dragged on — and the White House clashed with the Kremlin over Ukraine — U.S. officials were hesitant to further complicate the negotiations by pushing the Syrian issue.
"It's pretty apparent that as the negotiations were dragging on for years over the nuclear deal the Obama administration was reluctant to muddle the waters trying to get Iran to disengage in Syria," she said.
She said the scale of the humanitarian suffering in Syria, as well as the nations where Syrian refugees have fled, should bring the countries back to the negotiating table.
"They must sit down and hash it out," Koppel said. "Think of how much time went into thrashing out the Iran deal. The same amount of time and energy needs to go into ending this war."
O'Brien said the advocates saw a new opportunity for peace because of what he called a "different dynamic" in the region.
"There is a complexity to this region that is not new," he said, "but you have a different dynamic now with the Iranians believing it is in their self-interest to show some responsible internationalism by saying they want to talk about being a stabilizing force in the region."
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told BuzzFeed News he believed there was momentum in both Tehran and Washington to tackle the Syrian crisis.
"There is not going to be any quick fix but there is a momentum in which the U.S. and Iran talking to each other enables, at a minimum, that the conflict won't escalate," he said.
Parsi warned, though, that he expected the desire to appease conservative forces in both countries would delay any attempt to return to talks.
"Both sides are going to take a few steps back [now that the deal has been reached]," Parsi said. "A lot of the opponents of dealing with the other side are going to have to get appeasement and bandaids on their wounds."
"The question is, will it be just a phase? Or will the new normal be the same as the old normal?" he said.
Tehran, of course, has been one of Assad's largest military supporters, and Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighters have been killed fighting alongside regime forces.
"There is an alliance [between Syria and Iran] based on a great degree of trust," Assad said in an interview with Russian media Wednesday. "That's why we believe the Iranian role is important."
"[Iran] stands with the Syrian state politically, economically, and military," Assad said, although he denied Iran had sent its armed forces to Syria.
For its part, the U.S. has consistently advocated for a political solution to the crisis, but believes Assad can have no place in any future Syrian government.
However, the State Department has warned that matters have been complicated by Russia's recent admission that it has deployed military advisers to Syria and has been constructing an operating base in the war-torn country.
"No, it’s not helpful," State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday. "But that doesn’t mean that we still don’t believe there is an opportunity here to continue a dialogue towards a political transition."