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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

US on defensive as Obama shuns Dalai Lama

October 8, 2009

By Shaun Tandon (AFP)
October 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - The Dalai Lama on Monday started his first Washington visit in
nearly two decades to lack a presidential meeting, as Barack Obama's
administration insisted it still respected the Tibetan leader.

Fellow Tibetan exiles welcomed the globetrotting 74-year-old monk as he
arrived at his Washington hotel, starting a week in the US capital to
feature spiritual teachings and talks with congressional leaders.

But for the first time since 1991, when the Dalai Lama held his first
presidential meeting with George H.W. Bush, the White House declined talks
with the Nobel Peace laureate.

Obama has sought broader ties with China, a major trade partner and biggest
holder of the soaring US debt. China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and in
recent months has ramped up pressure on other nations to shun the Dalai

The State Department said Obama would see the Dalai Lama "at a mutually
agreeable time." Supporters of the Tibetan leader are hoping for a meeting
by year's end, after Obama pays his first presidential visit to China in

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that Maria Otero, the US special
coordinator on Tibet, would meet the Dalai Lama on his current trip.

"We've decided to meet with the Dalai Lama because of our respect for his
position, for the fact that he is a revered spiritual leader," Kelly told

"Our position regarding China is clear, that we want to engage China. We
think China is an important global player," Kelly said.

He added: "We also don't try and downplay some of the concerns we have about
China and some of our disagreements with China in the area of human rights,
religious freedom and freedom of expression."

But some supporters of the Dalai Lama were outraged by Obama's decision,
fearing that China could interpret it as carte blanche to clamp down on
dissent in the Himalayan territory.

"This is a strategic snub that sends the wrong message to Beijing and to
China's religious communities and rights activists," said Leonard Leo, chair
of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan
government panel.

"Tibetans are being harassed, tortured and jailed right now for simple
devotion to the Dalai Lama," he said.

"President Obama should demonstrate his unwavering support for those seeking
to establish the rule of law, religious freedom or other human rights in
China -- he can start by meeting with the Dalai Lama as soon as possible and
speaking out forcefully during his November trip to China," he said.

The Dalai Lama's entourage, however, politely accepted Obama's decision.

Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's negotiator in infrequent talks with Beijing,
said the Tibetans took a "broader and long-term perspective" that it was
better to meet after Obama's visit to China.

"The Dalai Lama has always been supportive of American engagement with
China," Gyari said in a statement.

"Our hope is that the cooperative US-Chinese relationship that President
Obama's administration seeks will create conditions that support the
resolution of the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people," he said.

Elliot Sperling, a Tibet expert at Indiana University, said the Dalai Lama's
team was putting a good face on a bad situation as China's influence grows.

"Tibet's government-in-exile is in a sense playing along, hoping that this
will make China more amenable to speaking with the Dalai Lama," Sperling

"But China's policy is very clear -- to bide its time until the Dalai Lama
dies and in the meantime to whittle away whatever influence he has," he

China last year called off a summit with European leaders after French
President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama. South Africa later refused
even to let the Dalai Lama visit the country.
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