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

October 18, 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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