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Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY.? - RC1555A14ED0

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ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) - The relationship between the United States and Turkey is likely to come under pressure as long as a U.S. pastor remains in jail, a U.S. official responsible for international religious freedom said on Monday.

A Turkish court on Monday began hearing allegations against Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, on charges of links to the group that orchestrated a 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has denied the charges.

"The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey," Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told reporters during a recess at the trial.

"That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated."

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler)

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