From 2005–2008 Javier Solana, High Representative for EU foreign and security policy, repeatedly travelled to Tehran with various French, UK and German foreign ministers to defend EU – as well as US – interests. Together they sought to convince Alí Larijani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator at the time, of the need to reach specific agreements concerning the country’s ambitions to obtain an atom bomb. Solana was supposed to prevent the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from breaking off relations with Iran. Europe obviously did not win that battle. But the delays did force the Iranian government to modify its plans. It was a diplomatic feat.

The leaders of France, Great Britain and Germany have now roundly denounced the irregularities in the 12 June Iranian elections. Washington is reluctant to join them in this outright condemnation. Obama has his reasons, though he will pay dearly for remaining aloof. Ahmadinejad claims there is a balance of power in present-day Iran. He himself, he says, is under the control of the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council, and has to respect the Supreme Leader’s decisions on matters of national defence.

The physical distance between Brussels and Tehran is vast, more than 2,500 miles: the psychological distance is greater still. Europe and America are trying to come to grips with a crisis born of a long series of chicanery and deceit, and they are trying to do it according to previously agreed procedures. Open public debate, replete with stenographers, is the method of choice for overcoming differences between States and interest groups. The Iranian message is another story entirely: it is that of Revolutionary Guards opening fire on demonstrators. The Supreme Leader believes he can count on ten million such recklessly recruited, disorganised and undisciplined guards, but there are no more than half a million of them in the whole country.

Iran is bent on attaining its own nuclear energy. But in pursuing that objective, the Iranian authorities have shown the methods they can and will use to achieve their ends.

Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran are not what are contemptuously called “conventional democracies”. The United States, France, the United Kingdom and India are. And that makes all the difference.