Obama meets Dalai Lama, rebuts Chinese objections

Obama meets Dalai Lama, rebuts Chinese objections

US President Barack Obama held a long- awaited meeting Thursday with Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, rebutting China's threats that the encounter would further harm ties between the two world powers, dpa reported.

Obama and the Dalai Lama met in the White House Map Room and did not appear together before cameras, unlike former president George W Bush, who met publicly with the Tibetan leader. An official photo of the meeting was to be released.

"I feel great honour seeing the president of the greatest democratic country," the Dalai Lama said in remarks outside the White House after the meeting. "You see (Obama's) concern about Tibet."

Obama called for protecting the rights of Tibetans in China and supported the Dalai Lama's ongoing talks with Chinese officials. He encouraged both sides to maintain a dialogue to "resolve their differences," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president stated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China," Gibbs said in a statement.

The meeting comes as US-China ties have soured in recent weeks amid spats over US arms sales to Taiwan, trade disputes, currency issues and accusations of Chinese cyber-spying from internet giant Google.

Obama had postponed a meeting with the Dalai Lama ahead of his November visit to China. But the administration rebuffed calls by China to cancel the encounter a second time.

Supporters of Tibet gathered outside the White House while Obama and the Dalai Lama were meeting inside. The 74-year-old Tibetan exile was also to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton later in the day.

It was unclear how China would react. A US aircraft carrier was given approval to dock in Hong Kong on Wednesday, though Chinese army officials based there were not expected to visit the USS Nimitz during its four-day stop, the South China Morning Post reported.

China considers him a separatist, while the Dalai Lama has said he is only seeking greater autonomy for Tibet within China. Several rounds of talks between his representatives and Chinese officials have yielded little progress.

The Dalai Lama said he still maintained a "full commitment" to the middle-ground approach with China and said Obama was "very much supportive" of talks between his envoys and China.

While China has grown more confident on the international stage in recent years, the meeting was not likely to dramatically affect ties with the US. Neither side had an interest in seriously damaging relations, said Professor Robert Barnett of Columbia University in New York.

Both Obama and the Dalai Lama "agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China," Gibbs said.

The Dalai Lama has met with every US president since 1991, though the style of the meeting has varied. Former president Bill Clinton met with him privately in the White House. Bush publicly awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since he fled from Tibet after Chinese occupation in 1959. He heads a Tibetan government-in-exile that is not recognized by any country.

The Tibetan leader arrived in Washington Wednesday afternoon at the start of a 10-day visit to the US, which includes a series of public lectures on cultivating compassion and world peace in California and Florida.

   On Friday he will receive the Democracy Service Medal from the National Endowment for Democracy.

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