Feb 17, 2010

Tibet: As the World Watches, Dalai Lama will Meet with Obama at the White House

Sample ImagePresident 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.


Below is an article published by: The Washington Post

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 (18 February 2010). 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."