WASHINGTON - The first meeting in a much-touted new diplomatic and defense dialogue between the United States and China will take place in Washington on June 21, the State Department announced Thursday.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program is likely to top the agenda for next week's talks, which follow Pentagon chief Jim Mattis's assurances to Asian allies that the initiative will not compromise US opposition to China's activities in the South China Sea.
President Donald Trump -- who frequently denounced China on the campaign trail -- has turned to Beijing to help pressure Pyongyang, with Mattis arguably his most important statesman on the issue.
Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, Chief of the People's Liberation Army's Joint Staff Department, along with other officials from both sides, the announcement said.
The meeting aims "to expand areas of cooperation while narrowing differences on key diplomatic and security issues," the State Department added in a statement.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to the dialogue during their talks in April at the Republican billionaire leader's Mar-a-Lago weekend retreat in Florida.
After meeting with Xi, Trump -- who once accused China of "raping" the US -- praised its leader as a "good man," saying it would be inappropriate to put pressure on Beijing while Washington is seeking its help with Pyongyang.
Mattis directly addressed the North Korea issue during a major Asia-Pacific defense summit earlier this month, calling its nuclear ambitions a "threat to us all," in an appeal for international unity.
It is "imperative that we do our part each of us to fulfill our obligations and work together to support our shared goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," Mattis said at the event in Singapore.
"The Trump administration is encouraged by China's renewed commitment to work with the international community toward denuclearization," he added.