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Dalai Lama optimistic about Obama, Return to Tibet

May 1, 2009

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press
April 29, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Hands reached for him, and
the Dalai Lama reached back. With a broad smile,
he exited a news conference Wednesday clasping
the fingers of anyone in reach, offering his
blessing, a laugh, and a bit of hope from a leader five decades in exile.

Hope was a theme of the Dalai Lama's remarks:
about the Obama administration, about the
prospects for change within the Chinese
government and about his own eventual return to
his native Tibet, 50 years after his harrowing
flight over the Himalayas into India.

When the leader of the Tibet's government in
exile was asked if he thought he would ever go
home, he quickly answered, "Oh, yes."

The Dalai Lama took questions Wednesday at the
start of a four-day visit to Massachusetts as
part of a U.S. tour. Stops at Harvard University
and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are
scheduled before a public appearance Saturday at
Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to help fund
construction of the Tibetan Heritage Center, a
Boston-area project to preserve Tibetan culture.

The timing of the tour, and the Dalai Lama's
message of finding happiness outside material
things, was right amid global recession, said
Dhondup Phunkhang, a spokesman for the Tibetan
Association of Boston, which is building the heritage center.

"It's good, I think, for someone to have a
message that is beyond financial matters and materialistic things," he said.

The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk, is seen as a
figure of moral authority in much of the world
but deplored by China as a "wolf in monk's robes"
who seeks Tibet's independence from China. The
Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he wants only "real autonomy" for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama on Wednesday described U.S. policy
toward Tibet under Obama as "more or less the
same" as under President George W. Bush but added
he was hopeful Obama's open and "more
straightforward" style would spur positive change.

The Dalai Lama said he would like to meet Obama
when he visits Washington in October, as he has
every president since George H.W. Bush. George W.
Bush was the first to officially meet the Dalai
Lama, awarding him the U.S. Congress's highest
civilian honor in 2007, a move that outraged
China. Bush's predecessors had "dropped in" while
the Dalai Lama met with advisers.

The Dalai Lama said Wednesday he wasn't concerned
how Obama chose to meet him, a decision with
implications for Chinese-U.S. relations.

"It doesn't matter," he said, with a wave of his hand and a laugh.

He also said he held out hope that Chinese policy
toward Tibet could ease because China must take
steps to increase its moral authority if it truly
aspires to be a greater power.

"China needs the rest of the world's trust, respect," he said.

The 73-year-old Dalai Lama was unequivocal about
his belief that one day he would return to Tibet,
after fleeing in March 1959 during a Chinese
crackdown of a Tibetan uprising. But he said his
refugee status had allowed him to meet many
people of various places and traditions. He said
he'd also learned to find a home all over the world.

"Wherever you find happiness, that's your home," he said.
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