Britain unveils hotline to Moscow amid easing ties

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Britain and Russia are setting up a hotline between their leaders as the two countries seek to overcome "serious disagreements" and boost ties, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.

He was speaking after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in London, the latest sign of improving relations between the two powers despite tensions caused by a succession of Cold War-style scandals.

"We have today just signed a treaty to update the hotline, the telephone link between Number 10 (Downing Street) and the Kremlin, allowing for a modern system to be put in place," Hague told a joint press conference.

"This is not in any way a sign that we are returning to Cold War mentality -- it is about modernising an important communication link for a modern relationship."

He admitted that London's differences with Moscow would not be resolved overnight but said relations were steadily improving, as shown by Prime Minister David Cameron's planned trip to Russia this year.

"Yes, we've had some serious disagreements between our countries. We don't always see eye to eye now," Hague said.

"But where we disagree we're able to raise it together, as we have done today. It shouldn't stop us from working together in areas which bring benefits to both our countries."

Hague added: "Sergei Lavrov's visit only four months after I travelled to Moscow shows that our countries continue to seek a patient, steady improvement in relations.

"It will take time, there will be no giant leaps -- it is about measured practical steps."

The countries are still locked in a dispute over the radioactive poisoning death of dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Russia has infuriated Britain with its refusal to extradite its lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the case, and Moscow is equally angry over London's unwillingness to drop the demand.

More recently, the two sides have exchanged sharp remarks over the expulsion of a British newspaper's Moscow correspondent and the case of a Russian researcher in the House of Commons who is facing deportation for alleged spying.

© 2011 AFP

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