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Obama to meet Dalai Lama

world Updated: Oct 06, 2009 11:09 IST

The US has confirmed that President Barack Obama will not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington and will see the Tibetan spiritual leader only after his own trip to China next month.

"The president has decided that he will meet with the Dalai Lama at a mutually agreeable time. I think that there was an announcement that it would be after his trip to China," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Monday.

Instead of Obama, Undersecretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero, who has just been named the Special Coordinator for Tibet, will meet with the Dalai Lama, he said.

The State Department's comments came in the wake of a Washington Post report Monday suggesting US in an attempt to gain favour with China had pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone the meeting until after Obama's summit next month with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

Citing diplomats, government officials and other sources familiar with the talks, the influential US daily said the US decision to postpone the meeting appeared to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China.

However, asked Monday whether the fact that there is no meeting planned represents a change in US policy toward China or toward Tibet, Kelly said: "I wouldn't necessarily read this decision - anything into the decision beyond what it is, is that we've decided to meet with the Dalai Lama because of our respect for his position, the fact that he is a revered spiritual leader."

"Our position regarding China is clear that we want to engage China. We think China is an important global player. We also don't try and downplay some of the concerns that we have about China and some of our disagreements with China in the areas of human rights, religious freedom, and freedom of expression."

"But I think these are two separate issues: the president's decision to meet with the Dalai Lama and the path that our relationship with China is on."

Since 1991, the Dalai Lama has been here 10 times and each time he has met the president. Most times the meetings have been 'drop-in' visits at the White House.

The last time he was here in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.

China called the ceremony an affront to the budding relations between the countries.

Though Bush said the ceremony was not meant to antagonise the Chinese, he made repeated references to religious oppression.

The Dalai Lama will receive a human rights award Tuesday given by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On Thursday and Friday, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to participate in a conference on the theme of Educating World Citizens in the 21st Century.

On Saturday, he is to spend the morning teaching on "The Heart of Change: Finding Wisdom in the Modern World," an event organised by the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture.