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Sunday, July 18, 1999 Published at 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK


World: Middle East

British envoy takes up Iran posting

Nick Browne is the first ambassador in Iran for nearly 20 years

The recently-appointed British ambassador in Tehran has taken up his post.

It is the first time Britain has had an ambassador in Iran since shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979 which brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power.

Nick Browne, a specialist in Iranian affairs, formally presented his credentials to Iranian President Mohammed Khatami on Sunday.


[ image: President Khatami: At loggerheads with Islamic hardliners over reforms]
President Khatami: At loggerheads with Islamic hardliners over reforms
Relations between the two countries hit an all time low 10 years ago when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against the British author Salman Rushdie.

But last September Iran and Britain announced they had decided to put the Rushdie affair behind them and upgrade their relations to ambassadorial level.

However, it has taken many months for the two sides to agree when exactly to exchange ambassadors and who the envoys should be.

Both in the end decided to appoint their existing charge d'affairs; in Britain's case, Mr Browne and in Iran's case Gholamreza Ansari.

Fatwa still exists

After presenting his credentials to the president, Mr Browne said the ceremony symbolised a steady increase in co-operation and improving relations between the two countries.

The death fatwa against Mr Rushdie was issued after he wrote The Satanic Verses which many Muslims found blasphemous.

The decree still exists as it can only be rescinded by the Ayatollah himself, who died shortly after issuing it.

But last year the Iranian Government distanced itself from the fatwa, reassuring London it would do nothing to implement it.

Protests

Mr Browne takes up his new post amid a wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping Iran which has sparked the most serious violence since the 1979 revolution.


[ image: Student protests have rocked Iran this month]
Student protests have rocked Iran this month
The disturbances have put further strain on Tehran's relations with some Western countries which have been outspoken in their support for the demonstrators, mostly students.

Some British MPs this week criticised the closer ties with a country they described as a sponsor of state terrorism with an appalling human rights record.

But Foreign Office junior minister Geoff Hoon said the government was committed to developing relations and encouraging the reformist policies of President Khatami.

Norway, which also broke ties over the Rushdie affair, is preparing to send an ambassador to Iran in August.





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