France calls in Chinese ambassador over Dalai Lama

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Wednesday called in China's ambassador over his comments warning of serious consequences if President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama.

"I was very surprised by the remarks of the Chinese ambassador. I have asked him to come and see me (...) to explain his position which appears to be difficult for France to accept," said Kouchner.

Ambassador Kong Quan on Tuesday warned of "serious consequences" to Sino-French relations if Sarkozy met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader during his visit to France next month, the AFP reported.

"If such a meeting took place, it would have serious consequences because it would be contrary to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs," the ambassador told reporters in Paris, without elaborating.

After meeting with Kouchner, Kong did not repeat the warning, but reasserted that China was "firmly against this type of meeting" between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders.

" Tibet is a purely Chinese matter," said the ambassador.

"We are are against heads of state meeting with him abroad. This could very well be considered a form of support."

Earlier Sarkozy met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Japan and told him that he would be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

Sarkozy had threatened to boycott the August 8 ceremony unless Beijing showed progress in its talks with the Dalai Lama over the status of Tibet.

The meeting between Sarkozy and Hu followed strains in relations following the chaotic Olympic torch relay through Paris in April that was disrupted by human rights protesters angry at Beijing's crackdown in Tibet.

Sarkozy has left open the possibility of holding face-to-face talks with the Dalai Lama, who has met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W. Bush.

The Dalai Lama is due to pay a visit to France from August 12 to 23 to attend a conference on Buddhism in the western city of Nantes.

France's opposition Socialists criticised Sarkozy's decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics and urged the president to hold a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The president's decision to go to the August 8 ceremony "once again underscores the incoherence of France's foreign policy," said the Socialist Party in a statement.

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