Bush offers support to Dalai Lama, wants dialogue

WASHINGTON, Reuters and AP

President George W. Bush on Wednesday offered his strong support to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his efforts to initiate a dialogue with the mainland Chinese government, White House officials said.

“The president said he would seek ways to encourage dialogue and expressed his hope that the Chinese government would respond favorably,” Bush administration officials said in a statement after Bush met the Dalai Lama at the White House.

“The president also reiterated the strong commitment of the United States to support the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of the human rights of all Tibetans,” the statement said.

Beijing regards Tibet as part of its traditional territory and sees the Dalai Lama as a supporter of its independence.

In an apparent gesture to Beijing, the White House made clear that Bush was receiving the Dalai Lama as a religious and not a political leader. The two were meeting in the White House residence, rather than the Oval or other West Wing offices.

“The president thinks it’s important to meet with the Dalai Lama,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. As for whether Bush was trying to send a signal to China by greeting the spiritual leader more openly than former President Bill Clinton did, Fleischer said, “It’s appropriate to meet with him, and that’s why they’re doing it.”

In Beijing, the mainland Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed anger over Bush’s plan to meet with the Buddhist leader.

The Dalai Lama met Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The monk told reporters he discussed his ideas about promoting human and religious values and the situation in Tibet.

He said Powell “listened very keenly” to the points he raised.

After his meeting with Powell, the Dalai Lama met with Paula Dobriansky, who was named the U.S. coordinator for Tibet last week, a post mandated by Congress to ensure a voice for Tibetan issues in the administration.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush considers the Dalai Lama “an important spiritual and religious leader and looks forward to the visit.”