Dmitri Medvedev, the new Russian President, met Gordon Brown for the first time today as the two leaders attempted to thaw relations after a period of diplomatic hostility.
Relations between Britain and Russia have been strained over the past two years. At last year's G8 summit Tony Blair is believed to have become embroiled in angry exchanges with Vladimir Putin, Mr Medvedev's predecessor.
Mr Medvedev attended this year's conference, at Lake Toya on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, without Mr Putin, but there are suspicions that the former President is pulling strings behind the scenes.
Speaking at the start of the 45-minute meeting this morning — one of four meetings with Western leaders — Mr Medvedev said that the relationship between Russia and Britain had "enormous potential".
"This reveals the enormous potential our relationship enjoys, even with certain problems faced there, and this is a good chance to discuss the potential of development with respect to the economy and trade and humanitarian issues," the Russian leader said, speaking through interpreters.
During the meeting, Mr Brown is believed to have raised Russia's refusal to extradite the former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoy, the chief suspect in the London poisoning of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko. It was this incident that caused the rift between Russia and Britain that culminated in last year's tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
Further tension has been stoked by the treatment of the British Council in Russia, with numerous employees arrested and the council's operations hampered, as well as a dispute with the oil giant BP over its operations in Russia.
"International relations always require people to come towards each other. The Prime Minister hopes his bilateral meeting with Mr Medvedev will be a constructive discussion on a wide range of issues," a British official said.
In what represented the biggest round of diplomacy since he took power, Mr Medvedev held separate talks with President Bush, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President.
After the meeting with Mr Bush, a senior aide to Mr Medvedev said that the talks had been "constructive". However, he added that the United States had failed to ease Russia’s concerns about its plans for a Europe-based missile shield.
"There is no real progress," Sergei Prikhodko, said. He added that Mr Medvedev warned Mr Bush that deploying interceptor missiles for the system in the former Soviet republic of Lithuania "would be absolutely unacceptable for the Russian Federation".
Mr Prikhodko said that the talks were "exclusively well-intentioned, constructive and open, but at times critical." He said that Mr Medvedev believes "the overall balance of Russian-American relations is without a doubt positive".
Elsewhere at the G8 summit this morning, leaders were locked in tense negotiations over the future of aid to Africa, as Britain and Japan resisted efforts by France and Italy to water down historic promises made at the 2005 Gleneagles summit to double development in the world’s poorest continent.
The pressure to water down the proposals comes from Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, and Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, who both face pressure to trim their domestic spending. It is opposed by Mr Brown and by the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda.
South Korea offers talks with North
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea rejected a proposal to resume stalled reconciliation talks with South Korea, while Seoul denounced the communist regime Sunday for the shooting death of a tourist that heightened tension between the divided nations.
North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's proposal to restart bilateral talks was not even worth considering. It called Lee's proposal a "deceitful" tactic to avoid taking responsibility for strained ties.
The snub was another sign of strained relations between the Koreas, which intensified after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist Friday at a northern mountain resort.
South Korea has criticized the North for killing an innocent civilian, demanding that investigators from the South be allowed to probe the case. "If an investigation into this tragic incident is not made, that will throw a cold blanket over all the people's expectations for progress in South-North relations," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement. The ministry is responsible for ties with North Korea.
The South Korean government suspended tours to the resort pending an inquiry.
However, the North has refused to cooperate in any investigation, saying the 53-year-old housewife ignored a soldier's warning and tried to flee. The North's tourism authorities demanded South Korea apologize for halting tours.
Unification Minister Kim Ho-nyeon said Sunday that there were many unanswered questions about the shooting, such as how the middle-aged victim was able to cover a distance of 2 miles (3.3 kilometers) within 20 minutes walking on a beach.
All 350 South Korean tourists at the resort returned home Sunday afternoon, according to Hyundai Asan, the tour company. Still, some 1,300 officials and shopkeepers remained in the tourist enclave because it was unclear how long the tour will be suspended, said Hyundai Asan spokeswoman Jang Young-ran.
Tensions between the Koreas have flared since Lee, a pro-U.S. conservative, took office in February. His government has criticized human rights abuses in North Korea and has been skeptical of offering unconditional aid to the impoverished country, a sharp departure from the previous decade of liberal South Korean leaders.
Lee, however, said in a speech to parliament Friday that his government was willing to consult on how to implement accords that his predecessors reached with communist leader Kim Jong II at summits in 2000 and 2007. Lee had earlier said he would review the accords to determine whether they are worth implementing.
The North countered Sunday that no more talks were necessary to carry out the summit agreements.
Lee "is attempting to avoid taking responsibility for worsened North-South relations and mislead public opinion to resolve a crisis with deceitful remarks," it said. "With that shallow-minded tactic, he cannot hide his ugly identity as an anti-unification, fratricidal confrontational person and (his remarks) will only prompt rising national fury and disillusion."
Lee's office said it had no immediate plans to respond to the North's comments.