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Britain, Russia Pledge To Overcome 'Disagreements'

  • RFE/RL

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (right) and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov today in London

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (right) and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov today in London

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in London on a visit aimed at improving rocky relations between Russia and Britain. He and his British counterpart William Hague said they were working to overcome "serious disagreements."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague admits his country's relations with Russia have been rocky in recent years but says both sides are committed to a "patient, steady" rapprochement.

Hague was speaking today at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who is in London on what is widely seen as a fence-mending visit after a series of diplomatic spats.

Hague said, "[the disagreements] shouldn't stop us from working together in areas which bring benefits to both our countries." He said a better-encrypted telephone line was being installed between the Kremlin and Downing Street to give leaders a more secure channel.

Lavrov: 'Very Positive'

Lavrov struck an equally conciliatory tone, praising his "very positive" dialogue with British leaders and extending an invitation for Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, to visit later in the year. Lavrov said he would discuss a date during talks with Cameron later in the day.

Both Lavrov and Hague carefully skirted some of the vexing issues that have strained relations between the two nations.

One of them is the death of former Russian secret service officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died of radioactive poisoning in London in 2006.

British authorities are angry at Russia's refusal to extradite lawmaker and former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the case, to stand trial in Britain.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the news conference's venue in London calling for justice in Litvinenko's case.

More recently, London and Moscow traded words over the expulsion of Luke Harding, a Moscow correspondent for Britain's "The Guardian" daily. Harding is now back in the Russian capital but it is still unclear how long he will be able to stay there.

The case of Katia Zatuliveter, a Russian aide to a British parliamentarian, has also soured relations with Moscow. Zatuliveter, accused of spying on behalf of Russia but who denies wrongdoing, is facing deportation.

International Issues

Today's news conference, however, focused largely on international issues, including Iran's controversial nuclear program and the political unrest in Egypt.

Lavrov made it clear that Russia would not support another round of United Nations sanctions on Tehran. "Additional sanctions would be stifling for the Iranian economy and would create social problems for the population. We cannot support this. I am speaking candidly," he said.

The Russian foreign minister also called on the international community not to encourage political unrest in the Middle East after street revolts that toppled veteran Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

"We Russians have lived through more than one revolution," he said. "This has been plenty for us and we think others shouldn't get dragged into this either."

On Afghanistan, Hague and Lavrov signed a joint declaration reiterating their support for the Afghan government's efforts to build a stable democratic state and battle drug trafficking.

The two diplomats also pledged enhanced bilateral cooperation in the spheres of human rights, trade, culture, and the fight against organized crime and terrorism.

written by Claire Bigg with contributions from agency reports