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President Obama and Dalai Lama discuss Tibet

Feb 18, 2010

Washington, Feb 18, 2010 - The Dalai Lama told reporters Thursday that he spoke to President Barack Obama about the “promotion of human value in order to bring peace to the world,” religious harmony and the Tibetan people. He said Obama showed “genuine concern” about his Tibetan homeland.

The White House said Obama expressed his “strong support of 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.”

The two leaders met for about an hour. Obama went ahead with the meeting despite China’s insistence that the president not meet with the Dalai Lama and warning that talks would damage relations between the United States and China. But the meeting is only the latest friction point in the already strained ties between the two nations. In recent months, they’ve grappled over Internet freedom, arms sales to Taiwan, trade, sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and currency values.

The White House readout of the meeting also said: “The president commended the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach, his commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government. The president stressed that he has consistently encouraged both sides to engage in direct dialogue to resolve differences and was pleased to hear about the recent resumption of talks. The president and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China.”

Obama had already delayed the meeting once in October, ahead of a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

But, in a way, it’s always a sensitive a time to meet the exiled Tibetan leader. President George W. Bush received the Dalai Lama in the White House residence emphasizing that he was meeting him as a spiritual, not political, leader. President Bill Clinton repeatedly arranged unofficial visits with the leader by dropping in on White House meetings hosted by Vice President Al Gore or first lady Hillary Clinton.

And despite the delay, the Dalai Lama has had some contact with the Obama White House. In September, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett traveled to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the exiled spiritual leader. According to the Dalai Lama’s office, Jarrett said Obama praised the Dalai Lama for “being consistent in looking for a solution based on Tibetan autonomy within the People's Republic of China.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) dismissed President Obama’s decision to meet with the Dalai Lama as “inconsequential posturing,” not a significant change in his China policy. The co-chairman of the Congressional Tibet Caucus said the administration has been too lenient with China on significant policy issues, from intellectual property to trade.

“A meeting with the Dalai Lama coupled with some policies that were pro-freedom and pro-human rights would be really significant,” he told POLITICO. “But this is a cover for policy.”

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