The Dalai Lama is set to meet President Barack Obama on Thursday despite warnings from Beijing that it could further strain Sino-US relations amid tension over Washington's arms sales to Taiwan and claims of Chinese cyber-spying.
Obama, who had failed to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader last year to keep Beijing in good humour ahead of his first state visit to China in November, would meet the Dalai Lama in the White House Map Room instead of his Oval Office to stress the unofficial nature of the meeting.
The Dalai Lama who arrived here on Wednesday will also meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who had last week defended the decision to receive the Dalai Lama, saying he was "an internationally respected religious leader" Wednesday declined to spell out why Clinton was meeting the Tibetan leader.
"I will direct you to the Department of State to answer that question," he said. But over at the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said he had nothing to announce about meetings with Clinton or any other official.
Asked how the Dalai Lama visit and the sales of weapons to Taiwan would affect US-China ties, Toner echoed Gibbs comments last week that their relationship was mature enough to disagree while finding common ground on international issues.
"Our relationship with China is diverse and there's a lot of issues. There's common ground. It's a complex relationship. There's areas where we agree on. There's areas where we disagree on," Toner said.
"And we're going to continue to pursue that relationship vigorously, while at the same time recognisng, for example, the Dalai Lama, that he's a respected cultural and religious figure and, as with past presidents, we intend to meet with him."
Ahead of the visit the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gayari, said that it was "important in itself that the meeting is happening".
He said that the Dalai Lama would be asking the US president to "help find a solution in resolving the Tibet issue that would be mutually beneficial to the Tibetan and Chinese people."
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," Gyari told the Washington Post in an interview. "You should be proud of that, not hesitant about that."
He stressed that the Dalai Lama agreed with Obama's decision not to meet him last October, 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 told the Post.
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 was quoted as saying, "but I think it was misread by the Chinese. . . . It is my hope that this meeting will help overcome these concerns."