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As the world watches, Dalai Lama will meet with Obama at the White House

February 18, 2010

By John Pomfret, Staff Writer
The Washington Post
February 17, 2010

President Obama's failure to meet the Dalai Lama
last year set back the Tibetan cause, but a new
meeting at the White House this week is a chance
for the president to repair the damage, according
to a top aide to the exiled leader.

The Dalai Lama is to meet with Obama on Thursday.
China has criticized the meeting and warned of
unspecified consequences. Obama postponed that
initial meeting last year because of his concerns about China's reaction.

The new meeting is "an excellent opportunity for
America as a nation and for Obama as an American
president to really reinforce the values that you
cherish," the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi
Gyaltsen Gyari, said in an interview Tuesday.
"You should be proud of that, not hesitant about that."

For its part, the Obama administration seems to
have planned the get-together in such a way as to
both honor the Tibetan leader and avoid enraging
Beijing. Although Obama won't meet the Dalai Lama
in public -- as President George W. Bush did in
2008 when the Dalai Lama was awarded the
Congressional Gold Medal -- he will host him in
the West Wing, and not the White House's private
quarters as President Bill Clinton used to do.

The meeting, which comes on the heels of a
decision to sell China's nemesis Taiwan $6.4
billion in weapons, will take place in the Map
Room; no president has met with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office.

Last summer, with a summit with China approaching
in November, Obama decided to postpone a meeting
with the Dalai Lama. That decision marked the
first time since 1991 that an American president
had declined to host the exiled Tibetan leader
during one of his occasional trips to Washington.
U.S. officials explained their decision as part
of a series of moves aimed at setting a good
foundation for relations with China.

Washington was seeking Chinese assistance in
countering nuclear proliferation by North Korea,
securing an agreement on climate change, and
getting support in dealing with the global
financial crisis and in confronting Iran's
alleged nuclear weapons program. The
administration also wanted China to resume talks
with representatives of the Dalai Lama, who fled
China in 1959 after an abortive anti-Chinese uprising.

Those talks with China -- the ninth round since
2002 -- did resume in January when Gyari led a
delegation to China for five days. The results so
far are inconclusive, Gyari said.

China has also recently concluded the first
significant Communist Party and government
meeting on Tibet since 2003. The meeting appeared
to be a tacit acknowledgment that China's
policies in the region have not won China much
support among Tibetans. Anti-Chinese riots and
demonstrations swept through many Tibetan areas
in the spring of 2008. During the meetings, China
pledged an additional $60 billion in development funds for Tibetan regions.

Briefing reporters and analysts, Gyari provided
new insights into Obama's decision last year. He
stressed that the Dalai Lama agreed with Obama's
decision but said that "we had a lot of misgivings."

Gyari said he was concerned that China would
interpret the decision as a sign of American
weakness and an opportunity to redouble pressure
on other countries to cut their ties to the
exiled Tibetan government. The decision would
"give an easy way out for a lot of weakling
countries, sitting on the fence" about their
support for the Dalai Lama, Gyari said. He noted
that China suspended diplomatic ties with Denmark
after its prime minister met the Dalai Lama and
resumed them in December only after the Danish
government promised to check with Beijing before inviting him again.

"Unfortunately it had definitely created setbacks
for us on that score," Gyari said.

Gyari also said he was worried Tibetans in China
would view Obama's decision as a defeat for the
Dalai Lama that could contribute to a "devastating" drop in morale.

"Our intentions were noble," he said, "but I
think it was misread by the Chinese. . . . It is
my hope that this meeting will help overcome these concerns."
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