Nick, as we used to call him, skilfully led British engagement with Iran after decades of mutual mistrust
The late Sir Nicholas Browne, who died aged 66, made his mark as a diplomat in the difficult arena of Iran.
He also singled out for criticism Sir Anthony Parsons, Ambassador to Iran from 1974 to 1979, saying that he had been woefully uninformed: he did not know that the Shah was terminally ill with cancer, and had not sufficiently pursued contacts with opposition groups (in particular, supporters of Khomeini). Consequently he had “underestimated the attractions of [Khomeini’s] simple and consistent message that the Shah must be overthrown”. Parsons later accepted that he
Relations between Britain and Iran improved after the election in 1997 of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami; and when Labour came to power under Tony Blair, his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook embarked on a policy of “constructive engagement” with countries such as Iran and Libya.
Browne was appointed chargé d’affaires in Tehran in 1997, after a spell as head of the Middle East Department in London. By now steeped in the history and culture of Iran, he formed a good relationship with Khatami, who once remarked that Browne spoke Persian “like a nightingale”. Two years later, following the New York agreement between Robin Cook and the Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi which resolved the Salman Rushdie issue, diplomatic relations were upgraded and Browne became Ambassador.
He trod a difficult path with characteristic aplomb, in 2000 having to deal with Iranian accusations that Britain was harbouring an anti-regime terrorist group. There were also complaints by the Iranians about what they saw as unflattering comments in the British press about Ayatollah Khomeini — comments for which Browne expressed his regret.
But there were also areas of progress: Iran foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, visited Britain; and the two countries signed an agreement on limiting drug trafficking. After 9/11 Browne was instrumental in forging a serious dialogue with Iran over Afghanistan, the high point of Western/Iranian cooperation.
Among his other postings, he served as First Secretary and Head of Chancery in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1980–۸۱, and, from 1984 to 1989, as First Secretary (Environment) at the British embassy to the EU in Brussels.
Nicholas Browne married, in 1969, Diana Aldwinckle, whom he met when they were fellow undergraduates at Oxford and with whom he had two sons and two daughters; one of his sons, Jeremy Browne, is Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane and served as a junior minister in the FCO under William Hague.