As the Trump administration readies to reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the Obama administration under a nuclear deal, American allies fear greater regional instability.

This combination of two pictures shows U.S. President Donald Trump, left, on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Feb. 6, 2018.
This combination of two pictures shows U.S. President Donald Trump, left, on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Feb. 6, 2018. (AP)

As the Trump administration readies to reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord, America's European allies fear greater regional instability.

President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the landmark agreement, signed by the US and five other world powers, remains one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of his presidency.

Trump administration officials say the sanctions are being restored starting Monday in an effort to change the Iranian regime's behavior. 

"They're the world's largest state sponsor of terror," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Indonesian television in an interview Sunday.

"That's what America is trying to get Iran to stop doing. That's the behavioral change that we're looking for from the Iranian regime."

But many US allies believe that language is code for regime change, according to two European diplomats involved in negotiations with the Trump administration over how sanctions would be reimposed.

The sanctions that go back into effect on Monday cover Iranian trade in automobiles and metals, including gold. 

The US also has banned imports of Iranian products such as carpets and pistachios and revoked licenses that allowed Iran to purchase US and European aircraft. 

TRT World's North America Correspondent Jon Brain reports from Washington. 

Iran acquired five new European commercial planes on Sunday before the sales were cut off.

The last and most significant sanctions — those on Iran's oil sector and central bank — will be restored on November 4. 

Oil sales are a crucial source of hard currency for Iran. 

The nuclear deal lifted international sanctions in exchange for Tehran agreeing to restrictions on its nuclear program. 

UN inspectors said Iran was complying with the deal, but Trump argued that it didn't do enough to curb Iran's malign activity in the region.

Trump administration officials also argued that because the US lifted sanctions against Iran as part of the agreement, it in effect stripped Washington of one of its most powerful tools to penalise Tehran.

EU remains committed 

European countries say they remain committed to the agreement, seeing it as the surest way to safeguard their national security.

"The problem is: What next?" one of the European diplomats said, referring to concerns that the US is eyeing regime change as the sanctions' end goal. 

Both diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to brief the media on ongoing negotiations.

If the reimposed sanctions caused the government in Tehran to collapse, Iran would likely devolve into civil war like what unfolded in Syria or radicals would assume power, the diplomat said.

A deepening of Iran's economic crisis could also lead to an influx of refugees and migrants into Europe like that seen on the heels of the Syrian conflict.

"Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both," Pompeo said in May.

Supporters of the Iran agreement have long argued that the US departure would alienate European allies who partnered with the US in the negotiations.

We "remain firmly committed to ensuring (the deal) is upheld and we continue to abide by our commitments," the second European diplomat said. 

"If we cannot fulfill these, this risks Iran deciding that it no longer has to abide by the restrictions."

Iran's economy was plunged into a downward spiral following Trump's announcement that the United States was scrapping the nuclear deal.

The downturn has sparked waves of protests across Iran.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies