Sir Stephen Egerton

Ambassador and diplomat Sir Stephen Egerton, who has died aged 74 and who lived in south Norfolk for many years, was heavily involved in Middle East affairs for more than four decades.

Ambassador and diplomat Sir Stephen Egerton, who has died aged 74 and who lived in south Norfolk for many years, was heavily involved in Middle East affairs for more than four decades.

On his first posting as ambassador, he arrived in Baghdad in 1980 just as the Iraq and Iran War began. He and wife Caroline were woken on their first morning by Iranian fighters bombing the city. The war, which continued for another eight years, cost an estimated million lives.

He met Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, now on trial for his life, on many occasions. At that time, Britain tacitly supported Iraq against the vehemently anti-American Iranian regime which was headed by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Promoted to London after this posting, he went to Riyadh as ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1986 when Britain was negotiating one of the country's largest long-term arms deals, the £20bn Al Yamahah project. Sir Stephen was advanced to KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George) in 1988. He had been made CMG (Companion) 10 years earlier.

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Educated at Eton, he was then commissioned 2nd lieutenant with the 60th Rifles (the Greenjackets) before reading classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. He entered Foreign Service in 1956 and studied at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies, Lebanon.

He then held a succession of posts, serving in Kuwait and four years in Iraq before being sent to New York in 1967 as secretary to the UK Mission. He arrived on the Queen Mary as the Six Day War started and went straight into a meeting of the Security Council. His wife didn't see him for a week although he made several television appearances.

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During his three-year posting, he contributed to the framing of UN Resolution 242, which required Israeli armed forces to withdraw from the occupied territories. It was typical of his enormous sense of humour that he recalled that this particular highlight of his diplomatic career involved the insertion of one word to the resolution!

A linguist, with written and spoken Arabic and three other languages, he was sent to Tripoli as Head of Chancery in 1972 where Col Gadaffi had seized control of Libya two years earlier. When oil prices tripled and hit $10 a barrel, energy politics were to the fore. He returned in 1973 to head the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's energy department.

His retired as a diplomat in 1992 after a posting to Rome during which time he became Britain's first ambassador to Albania.

He then became a consultant to Enterprise Oil. He was vice-president of the British School of Archaelogy in Iraq. Closer to home, he had strong East Anglian links and was a great friend of Norwich Cathedral for many years. He worked behind the scenes to promote the cathedral and was closely involved with the link project, established by the former dean, the Very Rev Stephen Platten.

His entry in Who's Who listed his recreations as "topiary and argument." It was typical of his zest for life, sadly cut short by cancer, and his warm sense of humour.

He was a voracious reader, who enjoyed walking, especially around his village chatting to people.

Married for 48 years, he leaves a widow, Caroline, a son and daughter, and two grandchildren. A family funeral will take place today at Seething parish church, at 4pm. A memorial service will be held in London in the autumn.

Michael Pollitt

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