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Bush asks China to open talks with Dalai Lama

October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, 17 October (AFP): His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (L) arrives with US President George W. Bush for a ceremony to award the
Tibetan spiritual leader the Congressional Gold Medal, in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Bush defied China's severe warnings and made an
unprecedented public appearance with the Dalai Lama Wednesday, at a rare ceremony in Congress to honor Tibet's spiritual leader.

US President George W. Bush defied China's severe warnings and made an unprecedented public appearance with the Dalai Lama Wednesday, at a rare ceremony
in Congress to honor Tibet's spiritual leader.

The US leader had earlier called on his Chinese counterparts to open talks with the revered 72-year-old Buddhist icon, whom he met privately on Tuesday,
sparking a fresh outburst from Beijing.

Bush sat side-by-side with the Dalai Lama, in the ornate Rotunda beneath the dome of the US Capitol, before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi awarded him the
Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by US lawmakers.

Earlier, the president was asked at a White House news conference why he was prepared to shrug off protests from China over the meeting.

"It's in their interest to meet with the Dalai Lama and I will say so at the ceremony today in Congress," Bush said, before becoming the first US leader to appear in
public with the exiled spiritual leader.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had warned that Bush's private meeting with the Dalai Lama and the Congress ceremony represented "a severe violation of the
norms of international relations."

He accused the United States of having "severely hurt" China's feelings and interfered in its internal affairs.

But Bush said the ceremony would not dampen relations with the Asian giant.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (L) arrives with US President George W. Bush for a ceremony to award the Tibetan spiritual leader the Congressional
Gold Medal, in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Bush defied China's severe warnings and made an unprecedented public appearance with the Dalai
Lama Wednesday, at a rare ceremony in Congress to honor Tibet's spiritual leader.

He said if Chinese leaders sat down with the Dalai Lama, "they would find him to be a man of peace and reconciliation.

"I think it's in the country's interest to allow him to come to China and meet with him. I admire the Dalai Lama a lot. I support religious freedom. He supports
religious freedom," Bush said.

The US president said that he had given advance notice to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao about him attending the controversial ceremony honoring the Dalai
Lama but the Chinese leader was unhappy about the move.

"I want to make sure he understood exactly why I was going, and they didn't like it, of course, but I don't think it's going to damage -- severely damage relations.

Tibetan Buddhist monks play traditional instruments during a ceremony at Phodang on the outskirts of Siliguri. The ceremony was staged to celebrate The Dalai
Lama being awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by US lawmakers.

"I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest," said Bush, who had been frank with Hu on matters of religious freedom in all
their meetings.

"As a matter of fact, I don't think it ever damages relations when an American president talks about religious tolerance and religious freedom is good for a nation. I
do this every time I meet with them."

On Tuesday, Bush and the Dalai Lama met privately for 30 minutes in the ornate "Yellow Oval" room in the White House residence -- far from the formal diplomatic
trappings of the Oval Office in an effort to placate the Chinese.

"We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The point of the meeting was to pay tribute to "a great spiritual leader" and endorse greater religious freedom in Tibet, Perino said.

Chinese paramilitary policemen train in the grounds of the Forbidden City in Beijing, on the third day of the Chinese Communist Party's 17th five-yearly Congress.
US President George W. Bush defied China's severe warnings and made an unprecedented public appearance with the Dalai Lama Wednesday, at a rare ceremony
in Congress to honor Tibet's spiritual leader.

Mindful of Beijing's role in efforts to defuse the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises, the White House toned down the symbolic overtones of the Tuesday
meeting by declining to specify a time of the event, or release a photograph, or specify what had been discussed.

Beijing was not appeased. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Wednesday called the meeting a "gross interference in China's internal affairs" and urged that
the medal ceremony be canceled.

Past Congressional Gold Medal winners include former South African president Nelson Mandela; Mother Teresa of Calcutta; polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk;
tough-guy Western actor John Wayne; singer Frank Sinatra; and the late pope John Paul II.

Top Democratic and Republican leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Holocaust author Elie Wiesel, made remarks at the Congress
ceremony. Hollywood star Richard Gere, long a campaigner for human rights in Tibet, was also to be present.

The Dalai Lama fled to India following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, and currently lives in the northern hill town of Dharamsala, which is also the seat
of his government in exile.

China has ruled Tibet, a devoutly Buddhist land of six million, since sending troops into the region in 1950, and officially "liberating" it from feudal rule a year later.

In a show of protest against the Dalai Lama's high profile trip to Washington, China put off a Berlin meeting this week of the UN Security Council's five permanent
members and Germany on the Iranian nuclear crisis, a US State Department official said.

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