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Obama to meet Dalai Lama at White House on February 18

February 13, 2010

February 11, 2010

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama risked
angering China by announcing Thursday a meeting
next week with the Dalai Lama, just as he needs
Beijing's cooperation to pressure Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Despite Chinese objections, Obama will meet the
exiled Tibetan leader in the Map Room at the
White House next Thursday, the president's
spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

"The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected
religious leader. He's a spokesman for Tibetan
rights. The president looks forward to an
engaging and constructive meeting," Gibbs said.

Despite political pressure at home, Obama avoided
meeting the Dalai Lama when the Buddhist monk was
in Washington last year, in an apparent bid to
set relations off on a good foot with Beijing early in his presidency.

Obama, however, told Chinese leaders during his
trip to Beijing in November that he planned to
meet with the Dalai Lama, who is widely respected
in the United States but branded a separatist by Beijing.

Next week's meeting comes at a time when
relations have already soured over the sale of a
6.4-billion-dollar package of US weapons to
Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a Chinese
territory to be reunified by force if necessary.

And Obama knows Chinese support is vital if he is
to succeed in winning united backing at the UN
Security Council for the tough regime of
sanctions he wants to impose on Iran for stepping up its suspect nuclear work.

Gibbs, however, sought to play down the discord.

"We think we have a mature enough relationship
with the Chinese that we can agree on mutual
interests, but also have a mature enough
relationship that we know the two countries...
are not always going to agree on everything."

China is a veto-wielding member of the Security
Council and has hesitated to step up pressure on
Iran, which insists that its sensitive uranium
enrichment work is for peaceful civilian purposes.

US and Chinese relations have also been strained
over Internet censorship, with Google threatening
to leave the fast-growing market over
cyberattacks against the email accounts of rights activists.

Beijing said last week it "resolutely opposes"
the planned visit by the Dalai Lama, who fled
Tibet into exile in India in 1959, especially any meetings with US leaders.

The Dalai Lama, 74, fled his homeland after a
failed uprising against Chinese rule. That came
nine years after Chinese troops were sent to take control of the region.

Since the 2008 round of talks, China has
maintained a tough crackdown in Tibet launched
following a wave of anti-Chinese unrest that
erupted in March of that year and which Beijing blamed on the Dalai Lama.

Several people have reportedly been executed for
their roles in the violence, and last month China
named a military veteran, Padma Choling, as Tibet's new governor.
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