Obama meets Dalai Lama over Chinese objections

Washington, Feb 21: In the face of objections from China, President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama Friday, saying the US supports his “Middle Way” approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China.

Obama’s meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel laureate, who is in the US on a speaking tour, was closed to photographers, and, unlike during some previous visits, the Dalai Lama departed the White House without speaking to reporters.

Announcing the meeting between Obama and the Tibetan leader, who lives in exile in India, late Thursday, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the president was meeting “the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.”

The President met the Dalai Lama in February 2010 and July 2011, she said, noting presidents of both Democratic and Republican parties over the past three decades have met the Dalai Lama in the White House.

Each time China has responded to those meetings with angry comments about how they would “inflict grave damages” on the relationship between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China,” Hayden said.

“The US recognises Tibet to be a part of the People’s Republic of China and we do not support Tibetan independence,” she said adding: “The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China.”

“We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China,” she said. “We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, as a means to reduce tensions.”

Earlier Friday, China urged Obama to call off the meeting with the Dalai Lama calling it a “gross interference in the internal affairs of China.”

“It will seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-US relations,” said Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry in Beijing.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS