In an ideal world quick action by the UN Security Council would have been the way forward. But the Russians and Chinese insisted on a watered-down statement that neither condemned the Iranian action nor called for the immediate release of the prisoners. Tough action through the UN may prove impossible to achieve given the obstacles on the Security Council.
There was, however, one other approach that would have a good chance of succeeding. The members of the EU aspire to having a common foreign policy. What better issue could there be on which our French, German and Italian allies and partners could show solidarity with the UK and demonstrate the benefits of joint action?
The best means of pressure would have been the export credit guarantees that are given to assist trade between Iran and western Europe. These, together with banking and other financial facilities are the soft underbelly of the Iranians and their withdrawal could do significant damage to Iran's already weak economy.
Such measures have already been canvassed by the Americans in respect of Iran's nuclear defiance.
The firm statement made by EU foreign ministers calling for the 'immediate and unconditional' release is welcome. But the apparent lack of any agreement over economic pressure has two serious consequences. First, it makes it very unlikely that Britain will be able to secure the release of the service personnel in the short term. Second, it is now almost inevitable that Iran will try to impose conditions from the international community and, in particular, the US, on their ultimate release.
This lack of agreement shows how hollow are the aspirations to a common European foreign policy. France and Germany should be ashamed at their refusal to assist their European partner in a humanitarian cause of this kind. If there had been a political will, there could already have been agreement.