Great Power Rivalries and the Persistence of Iran-U.S. Adversarial Relations

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in Political Science, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


A main objective of this paper is to advance debates over the adverse impact of intensified great power competition on Iran’s relations with the United States in the security domain. A key international factor to explain the confrontational nature of Iran-US relations over the past four decades is the rivalries of the great powers over global domination and supremacy. As China (and possibly Russia)  seek to alter their relatively inferior power position in the international system, they might eventually succeed in overtaking the U.S. as the global leader. The article then explains that the evidence provided by the Trump administration did not verify its claims that Iran has been the key threat to the security of the region. Despite the absence of a salient “Iran threat”, the US has  increased its  military presence in the region. With the help of Iran’s regional adversaries which have challenged the conflict resolution efforts aimed at ending the two states’ persistent enmity, key American realist and neocon politicians have been persuaded that the U.S. have the most to gain from “Īrān’harāsi” (illogical fear of Iran) than resolving the Iran-US dispute. There is also a group of Iranian hardline stakeholders who have sneered at the adverse outcome of the heightened tensions if the current climate of Iran-U.S. cold war would become a permanent feature of Iran’s foreign relations. Among the questions addressed here are what systemic factors have influenced Iran's position in the U.S. national security strategy? Why and how do US hegemonic aspiration and the great power competitions affect Iran-U.S. relations? Four main conclusions are presented: First, the great power rivalries over the expansion of global supremacy will increase and will have an unfavorable impact on the security of the Persian Gulf. Second, the closer Iran gets to China and Russia to counterbalance the US enmity towards the Iranian regime, the more determined American politicians would become to reinforce U.S. ties with its regional allies and partners. Third, the change in Iran’s foreign  policy behaviors depends on the removal of US economic sanctions, but Iran is most likely to continue safeguarding its ties with the state- and non-state players within the “mehvar-e moghāvemat” (Axis of Resistance)  to gain a more advantageous regional status.  Fourth, the deepening of cooperation between Israel and the Arab states will have very little impact on Iran-U.S. relations, but it will decrease  the probability of Iranian leaders to abandon the country’s ballistic missiles program in exchange for U.S. return to the JCPOA.


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