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UPDATE 5-U.S. backs Brazil for OECD membership, but Argentina first

Marcela Ayres

(Updates with Trump tweet)

BRASILIA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and his top diplomat said on Thursday they supported Brazil's taking steps toward joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), although it is first backing accession by Argentina.

Trump said in a Twitter post that a joint statement he released with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in March "makes absolutely clear that I support Brazil beginning the process for full OECD membership."

"The United States stands by that statement and stands by zjairbolsonaro," he said.

In a letter to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria in late August, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed the bids by Argentina and Romania but made no mention of Brazil, despite Trump's endorsement in March.

Pompeo said in a statement earlier on Thursday: "The leaked letter does not accurately represent the United States position with respect to OECD enlargement."

"We are enthusiastic supporters of Brazils entry into this important institution and the United States will make a strong effort to support Brazil's accession," Pompeo said.

Bolsonaro, who has held Trump up as a role model, has touted U.S. support for Brazil's OECD bid as one of the achievements of his nine-month-old government.

Standing next to Bolsonaro outside the White House on March 19, Trump announced his support for Brazil to become a full member of the OECD, a forum of three dozen democratic nations with solid market economies.

OECD membership is seen as a stamp of approval that boosts investor confidence in a countrys government and economy.

Bolsonaro played down the U.S. support for Argentina on Thursday, saying OECD accession was a drawn-out process and it could take Brazil up to a year and a half to become a member.

"We're almost there, but there were two countries in front of us, Argentina and Romania," he said in a Facebook live webcast to supporters.

The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia said the United States supports the enlargement of the OECD at a measured pace that takes into account the need to press for governance reforms and succession planning.

Brazils OECD bid ran into broad U.S. opposition to expanding multilateral bodies. The Trump administration has agreed to a paced expansion of the OECD, which means Brazil will have to wait its turn.

In December, a Brazilian government report said the main obstacle to its request to join the OECD, first made in May 2017, was opposition by the United States and the U.S. Trade Representative's office in particular.

In Latin America, only Chile and Mexico are in the club, while Colombia is on track to join soon. (Reporting by Marcela Ayres in Brasilia and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)