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U.S. official: China backs out of meeting to protest Dalai Lama honor

October 16, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (AP) : China is protesting U.S. honors for the
Dalai Lama this week by pulling out of a planned international
strategy session on Iran sought by the United States, a State
Department official said Monday.

China objected to participating in the meeting on the same day that
the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader is to receive the U.S. Congress'
civilian honor at a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush, the
official said.

China is one of six nations that have offered Iran a deal to shutter
disputed nuclear activities, and Wednesday's meeting in Berlin was
part of the U.S.-led drive to punish Iran for spurning the offer.

China is considered the main holdup to U.S. plans to impose new United
Nations sanctions on Iran this fall. China and Russia, which have
economic ties to Iran, have gone along so far with an international
effort to coerce Iran away from an alleged weapons program but
negotiations on the next round of sanctions is expected to be
difficult.

The six-nation diplomatic meeting is still expected to take place,
perhaps a week later, said the U.S. official who spoke on condition of
anonymity to describe another country's motives.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy did not directly dispute the U.S.
depiction, but said that the date for the Iran meeting was "not
suitable" for the Chinese delegation.

As for the Dalai Lama, the spokesman, Wang Baodong, said the embassy
strongly urges the U.S. side to "stick to its commitment of
recognizing Tibet as part of China and not supporting Tibetan
independence," saying the award will encourage separatist activities
and further damage U.S.-China relations.

Bush will go to the Capitol on Wednesday to speak at the presentation
of the medal, whose recipients have included Mother Teresa, former
South African President Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Ronald
and Nancy Reagan. Bush also will welcome the Dalai Lama in the White
House residence Tuesday.

China has also recently canceled December human rights talks with
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. China was incensed by Merkel's
meeting with the Dalai Lama last month.

China routinely criticizes visits abroad by the Dalai Lama, who fled
Tibet for India in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama remains popular
among Tibetans and is widely respected abroad, despite efforts to
undermine him by Chinese authorities.

China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many
Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that
period.

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