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Dalai Lama says he's pleased with Obama talks

February 21, 2010

By FOSTER KLUG
The Associated Press (AP)
February 18, 2010

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has
concluded over an hour of private talks with the
visiting Dalai Lama at the White House, and the
exiled Tibetan spiritual leader declared himself "very happy."

The Dalai Lama told reporters on the White House
driveway that he spoke to Obama about the
promotion of human value, religious harmony and
the concerns of the Tibetan people. He said Obama
was "supportive. He also urged a greater
leadership role for women in the public life of nations.

Obama's largely symbolic meeting with the Dalai
Lama was kept low-key in deference to Chinese
anger. Beijing considers the Buddhist monk a
separatist, and Obama wanted to void angering
China at a time when its cooperation was needed
on nuclear standoffs, climate change and other priorities.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon
for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama plans a
muted meeting with the Dalai Lama on Thursday in
deference to Chinese anger that he is welcoming
the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader into the White House at all.

What the Dalai Lama and Obama say to each other
behind closed doors will matter less than how the
White House portrays the president's symbolic
meeting with the Buddhist monk considered a separatist by Beijing.

Chinese officials will be watching closely to see
how great a stage Obama offers to his fellow
Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The Chinese want to
know: How long will the meeting last? Will the
first lady attend? Will the White House put out a
written statement or answer questions about the
visit at daily press briefings? Will cameras be
allowed to film any part of the encounter?

"The optics of this thing are incredibly
important to the Chinese," said Michael Green,
former President George W. Bush's senior Asia
adviser. "The Chinese government is preoccupied
with protocol and how things look."

China's feelings matter because the Obama
administration needs Beijing's help to confront
nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, to
fight climate change and to boost the world's
economy. U.S.-Chinese relations have been
strained, most recently because of the Dalai
Lama's visit and the Obama administration's
approval of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to
Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.

Obama has to balance Chinese anger against
criticism from U.S. lawmakers and activists that
he buckled to Chinese demands by not meeting with
the Dalai Lama when he came to Washington in October.

It may not seem inflammatory to Americans
accustomed to presidential meet-and-greets, but a
public Dalai Lama-Obama appearance would enrage
China, which believes that official foreign
contact with the monk infringes on its sovereignty over Tibet.

With China in mind, the White House appears to be
opting for a low-key meeting. There is unlikely
to be a joint public appearance or photo
opportunity before reporters. Instead, the White
House will release an official photo. The visit
will take place in the Map Room, where presidents
stage private meetings, not the more stately Oval
Office, where Obama frequently meets with world leaders.

The Dalai Lama's envoy, Lodi Gyari, said even a
private meeting with Obama is a boost for
Tibetans feeling marginalized by China. Green
said just the "fact that they spend time together
in an intimate setting means everything for the Tibetan cause."

Although the Dalai Lama is revered in much of the
world, Beijing accuses him of seeking to
overthrow Chinese rule and restore a feudal
theocracy in the expansive mountainous region.
The Dalai Lama and analysts say that is untrue.

The Dalai Lama has met with U.S. presidents for
the past two decades, but mostly in private encounters.

George W. Bush also met behind the scenes with
the Dalai Lama. Bush broke with tradition in a
big way, however, when he appeared at the public
presentation in 2007 of a Congressional Gold
Medal to the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland to
India in 1959 with members of his family and
fewer than 100 other Tibetans during a failed
uprising against China. Chinese troops had taken over Tibet in 1951.

Charles Freeman, an analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies think tank,
said that while he does not believe Thursday's
meeting will cause lasting damage to U.S.-China
relations, short-term repercussions could include
a postponement of Chinese President Hu Jintao's
expected visit to Washington in April.

Despite China's angry words, recent U.S.-China
tension may be easing. On Wednesday, five
American warships were allowed to dock for a port
call in Hong Kong, a possible indication that
Beijing does not want relations with Washington to worsen.

Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.
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