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Trump, China's top diplomat, discuss cooperation, possible Xi meeting

(Adds joint statement by U.S., Japan, South Korea)

By Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump, who has attacked China on issues from trade to the South China Sea, held his first face-to-face talks with a member of the Chinese leadership on Monday, and the White House said it was a chance to discuss shared security interests and a possible meeting with President Xi Jinping.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, met Trump briefly after talks with the new U.S. National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster; Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner; and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

A senior U.S. administration official said discussions included bilateral cooperation and the possibility of arranging a meeting between Trump and Xi, but no date was set.

The official said the meeting with Trump lasted five to seven minutes.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called it "an opportunity to say 'hi' to the president" before Yang left.

"This was an opportunity to begin that conversation and talk to them on shared interests of national security,” he added at a regular news briefing.

Yang, who outranks China's foreign minister, is the first top Chinese official to visit the White House since Trump took office on Jan. 20.

His visit followed a phone call between Yang and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, during which the two affirmed the importance of a constructive U.S.-China relationship.

It was the latest step by the world's two largest economies to try to put relations back on an even keel after a rocky start following Trump's election victory.

Trump has been a strong critic of Beijing, accusing China of unfair trade policies, criticizing its island building in the strategic South China Sea, and accusing it of not doing enough to constrain its neighbor, North Korea.

Trump incensed Beijing in December by talking to the president of Taiwan and saying the United States did not have to stick to the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.

Trump later agreed in a phone call with Xi to honor the "one China" policy in a diplomatic boost for Beijing, which vehemently opposes criticism of its claim to self-ruled Taiwan.

China's state news agency Xinhua quoted a researcher at a government-backed think tank as saying a discussion of when and where Trump and Xi would meet first would be on the top of the agenda during Yang's visit.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, saying Beijing could resolve the issue "very easily if it wanted to."

China on Friday dismissed Trump's remarks, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang. Beijing has repeatedly called for a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.

As Yang held talks at the White House, senior officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea met at the State Department to discuss additional measures to choke off funding to North Korea's weapons program.

"The officials considered other possible measures under national authorities, including means to restrict further the revenue sources for North Korea's weapons programs, particularly illicit activities," they said in a joint statement.

They also agreed that North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs directly threatened their security and "strong international pressure" was needed to push back at Pyongyang, the statement added.

Plans for renewed contacts with North Korea in the United States were canceled last week after the U.S. State Department denied a visa for the top envoy from Pyongyang, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick and Washington Newsroom; editing by Andrew Hay and Jonathan Oatis)