British PM to visit Russia in September: diplomat

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British Prime Minister David Cameron will visit Russia in September at the invitation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a senior diplomat at the Russian embassy in London said.

Alexander Sternik, the second-ranking diplomat at the embassy, told reporters at a briefing late Wednesday that Cameron would travel to Moscow in "early September", confirming a trip mooted by the two leaders in November.

"We hope it will be a very significant step forward in improving our relationship," he said.

Referring to Cameron's year-old Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, he said: "We applaud the resolute commitment of the new coalition government to open doors to multifaceted co-operation with Russia."

Sternik said Cameron would be accompanied by a high-level business delegation, adding: "We are ready, as soon as London is ready, to re-establish full-fledged cooperation in all areas."

The visit would be first by a British premier to Russia since the death by radioactive poisoning of dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006. Tony Blair was in St Petersburg for a G8 summit in July that year.

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

Sternik described the dispute as a "sticky point" in relations, but said: "It's no longer a decisive factor which negatively affects our otherwise very rich and very promising co-operation in various fields."

Cameron's Downing Street office refused to confirm the date of the visit, saying it never discussed the prime minister's travel arrangements, but pointed to the announcement of the trip last year.

After talks at the G20 summit in Seoul in November, Cameron said: "We have both agreed we want to strengthen the bilateral relationship. I'm very pleased to take up the invitation of a visit to Russia next year."

Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Moscow in October and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov came to London in February.

© 2011 AFP

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