Dalai Lama envoys, China set to meet for talks ahead of the Olympic Games

The Dalai Lama called today for "tangible progress" in upcoming talks with China, as international pressure mounted for the sides to ease tensions after anti-government riots that rocked Tibet, ap reported.

Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, envoys who regularly represent the Tibetan spiritual leader in meetings with China's Communist leadership, arrived in Beijing this evening.

They will begin two days of talks with their Chinese counterparts on Tuesday, said Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharmsala, India.

"This will be the continuation of the formal dialogue which started in 2002," he said.

The meetings follow informal talks held in early May in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that ended with an offer from Beijing for future discussions.

"His holiness the Dalai Lama has instructed the envoys to make every effort to bring about tangible progress to alleviate the difficult situation for Tibetans in their homeland," a statement from the Dalai Lama's office said.

China said an invitation had been extended to the Dalai Lama, but gave no other details.

Some experts believe Beijing is agreeing to a fresh round of discussions to ease criticism ahead of the Olympic Games that begin Aug. 8 in the Chinese capital.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday he could attend the Aug. 8 opening of the Beijing Olympics if more progress in made in the talks. He had left open the possibility of boycotting the opening ceremony after China cracked down harshly on anti-government protests in Tibet earlier this year.

Sarkozy said he would make his decision known early next week.

"I think it is progressing well," he said. "If there was continued progress and if the Dalai Lama and the Chinese president acknowledged the progress, then the obstacle to my participation would be lifted."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Monday that previous rounds of talks have not dealt with all the issues between the sides, "but this is the way forward. We hope this discussion will advance the cause of the resolution of many of the outstanding issues in Tibet."

The news department of the State Council, China's Cabinet, did not respond to a faxed request for comment. A man surnamed Gao in the propaganda office of the United Front Work Department, which has hosted talks in the past, said he did not have details.

The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but Beijing demonizes the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and says he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.

China has governed Tibet with an iron fist since communist troops marched into the Himalayan region in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid a failed uprising in 1959, has said he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion.

Pressure has been growing on both sides to improve relations in the wake of the riots and protests that hit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and other areas of China with Tibetan populations in March. Beijing says 22 people died in the violence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, while foreign Tibet supporters say many times that number were killed in the protests and a subsequent government crackdown.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who ended two days of talks in China on Monday, said she was encouraged by the new round of talks and urged China to sincerely engage the Dalai Lama.

"We think he's a very positive figure in dealing with the very difficult issue of Tibet," Rice said.

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