Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2015

A Changing Picture with Unaltered Contours: US-Iran Antagonism in the Context of the Iraq-Syria Crisis

Riccardo Alcaro

February 2015

Istituto Affari Internazionali


Such is the magnitude of the crisis in Iraq and Syria that experts have started wondering whether the area will witness a major realignment between the main rival camps, the US and its allies on the one hand and Iran and its proxies on the other. The US and Iran – so the argument goes – share a critical interest in fighting the Islamic State and keep Iraq from total breakdown. Only by joining forces can they bring stability to the region, which incidentally should also serve as an incentive for both parties to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. This interpretation, however, fails to account for the effects that a US-Iran rapprochement would have on the US’s system of alliances in the region. US-Iran relations are likely to remain antagonistic, although the Iraq-Syria crisis and the nuclear issue have indeed the potential to re-orientate them along a less adversarial pattern.