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Obama set to meet Dalai Lam

February 18, 2010

US President Barack Obama was to hold a long-awaited meeting Thursday with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, rebutting China’s threats that the encounter would further harm ties between the two powers.

Obama and the Dalai Lama will meet in the White House and are not not expected to appear together before cameras, unlike former president George W. Bush, who met publicly with the Tibetan leader.

The meeting comes as US-China ties have soured in recent weeks amid spats over US arms sales to Taiwan, trade disputes, currency issues and accusations of Chinese cyber-spying from internet giant Google.

Obama had cancelled a meeting with the Dalai Lama ahead of his September visit to China. But the administration rebuffed calls by China to cancel the encounter a second time.

The 74-year-old Tibetan exile was also to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged Wednesday that the US and China had a “complex relationship” but said the US would “continue to pursue that relationship vigorously”.

The Dalai Lama was “a respected cultural and religious figure, and as with past presidents we intend to meet with him”, Toner said.

The Dalai Lama has met with every US president since 1991, though the style of the meeting has varied. Former president Bill Clinton met with him privately in the White House. Bush publicly awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since he fled from Tibet after Chinese occupation in 1959. He heads a Tibetan government-in-exile that is not recognized by any country.

China considers him a separatist, while the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he is only seeking greater autonomy for Tibet within China. Several rounds of talks between his representatives and Chinese officials have yielded little progress.

The Tibetan leader’s 10-day visit to the US includes a series of public lectures on cultivating compassion and world peace in California and Florida.

On Friday he will receive the Democracy Service Medal from the National Endowment for Democracy.

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