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Russia opts out of high school student exchange program with US families; US expresses regret


MOSCOW — The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has voiced regret about Russia's decision to cancel its participation in a major high school student exchange program.

U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft said in a statement that the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program has brought more than 8,000 Russian high school students to the United States to live with American families, attend high school and experience community life.

Tefft added "we deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States."

Russia said Wednesday it had halted the program after one of its students had failed to return home. The move comes amid serious strains in U.S.-Russian ties over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

"The public outcry we've seen among Russians who either participated in the program or wanted to participate speaks to the powerful and lasting, positive impact these kinds of exchange can have on peoples' lives. The FLEX program was vital in building those kinds of bonds between young Russians and Americans that we need in order to overcome challenges in our bilateral relations," U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.

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