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'Olympics about athletes, not politics'

President George W Bush will be attending the Olympic Games in Beijing this August despite the Chinese crackdown on Tibet.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2008 19:13 IST
Arun Kumar

President George W Bush will be attending the Olympic Games in Beijing this August despite the Chinese crackdown on Tibet, US officials said.

Bush believes that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics", but he will probably make it a priority to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao during the Games to express his concerns, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Thursday.

"Any country who's going to be hosting the Olympics will have a bright light shined upon it," she said. "And it is a chance for that country to put its best face forward, and it's also a chance for other countries to learn more about the country."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday night and urged restraint in responding to an outpouring of anti-government demonstrations in Tibet and neighbouring provinces over the last week, Perino said.

Bush was informed of the conversation on Thursday morning. Rice shared "our views and concerns about the situation" and asked that Chinese authorities refrain from violence, she said. Rice also urged China to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet bloc responded by sitting out the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

"If you're looking back in terms of 1980, I don't know if this president would have made that same decision," Perino said, adding: "But this president certainly hopes that our athletes who are training very hard have the best possible experience at the Olympics".

Rice herself told reporters that the US was "certainly concerned about the situation in Tibet". Referring to her conversation with the Chinese foreign minister, Rice said she had not only urged restraint, but also repeated Washington's call for a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

"And most importantly, we have urged for many years that China engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who represents an authoritative figure who stands against violence and who also stands for the cultural autonomy of the Tibetan people, but has made very clear that he does not stand for independence," she said.

"And I believe that this would be a basis on which China could reach out to an authoritative figure for peace," Rice said. "And so we are encouraging that, and I hope that China will exercise restraint. But it is also important that all parties refrain from violence."

Asked if he was hopeful that a dialogue between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama could happen, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "...we've been calling for this for some time. Certainly, now would be as appropriate a time as ever for that dialogue to take place". "Again, I reiterate, we believe he is a man of peace, he is a man of reconciliation, and one whom the Chinese government can have a dialogue with," he added.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to meet the Dalai Lama later Friday at the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala, in India's Himachal Pradesh state.