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Turkey says will tell Tillerson it wants to mend trust with U.S.

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will tell U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the two countries must repair damaged mutual trust, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, following a series of disagreements, especially over the Syria crisis.

FILE PHOTO - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Relations between the NATO allies have been strained by U.S. support for the YPG Kurdish militia in Syria. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group, but it is a key component of U.S.-backed forces battling Islamic State in Syria.

Turkey is targeting the YPG in an air and ground operation in Syria’s northwest Afrin region launched two weeks ago. President Tayyip Erdogan has promised to sweep the militia from Turkey’s southern border, a move that could put Turkish troops in confrontation with U.S. forces on the ground in Syria.

“Our trust is damaged. We have to mend our trust. The contacts between us are important,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster TGRT Haber in an interview.

“When Tillerson comes we will share these ideas with him sincerely, we will share our expectations,” he said.

Turkish media earlier reported that Tillerson and U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would both visit Turkey in the near future. Cavusoglu did not say when they would visit.

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union as well as by Turkey.

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“The United States should understand and meet our concerns,” Cavusoglu said. “You are cooperating with this terror organisation knowingly. And this poses a threat to us.”

Erdogan has said Turkish forces would push east towards the town of Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, where U.S. troops were deployed to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from clashing.

On Tuesday Erdogan repeated his demand for U.S. forces to pull back from Manbij, saying the United States was setting itself up against Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia by arming the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a large part of northern Syria which borders Turkey.

Washington says it wants to continue the fight against Islamic State and to create a bulwark against Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq.

Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones