U.S., Russia make progress toward resolving diplomats spat -State Dept

FILE PHOTO: Vehicles drive past the embassy of the U.S. in Moscow, Russia August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor//File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Russia have made progress toward resolving a stand-off over staffing at their respective embassies, resulting in Washington ending a policy that allowed family members of embassy staff in Moscow to leave Russia, a State Department spokesperson said on Friday.

The progress, first reported by the Washington Post, came during a meeting with Russian officials in Vienna by a U.S. delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Christopher Robinson.

The policy known as authorized departure had been implemented by the U.S. embassy in Moscow in August to allow family members to leave the country voluntary, amid a diplomatic row between the two nations over how long diplomats can remain at their bilateral missions.

Following the Vienna meeting, authorized departure has been ended, a State Department spokesperson said in an email on Friday. "These are ongoing issues, which we continue to engage on. We have made progress in recent days on bilateral issues and hope to continue to move in that direction."

The tussle over diplomats comes as tensions are heightened over what Washington and its allies say are provocative troop movements by Russia near its border with Ukraine.

Russia said on Wednesday it was ordering U.S. Embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to fly home by Jan. 31, a retaliatory move for a U.S. decision to limit the terms of Russian diplomats.

The step came after Russia's ambassador to the United States said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the United States and would leave on Jan. 30. Washington said the diplomats were not expelled but had been in the country for longer than a new three-year limit.

"We need to have open channels of communication particularly during times of heightened tension. A functioning Embassy is critical to diplomacy and why we continue the hard work of addressing this issue," the State Department spokesperson added.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis)

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