WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama held a relaxed, unhurried conversation Thursday, reiterating long-standing commitments to seek greater rights for people living in the Tibetan regions of China.
After an hourlong meeting, the Tibetan spiritual leader emerged from the White House, smiling and playfully tossing a handful of snow at reporters before heading to a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Although the White House worked to keep the meeting low-key, Beijing objected to what it saw as U.S. support for an exiled monk who advocates Tibet’s independence from China. The 74-year-old Buddhist leader’s visit came days after a $6 billion U.S. arms deal with Taiwan that was also opposed by Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of China.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement that “the U.S. act grossly violated the norms” governing international relations.
The Dalai Lama praised the United States as “a champion of democracy, freedom, human value and human creativity.” He said he thanked Obama for the president’s past expressions of concern for the Tibetan people.
“Even before he became president, during the election, he telephoned me,” the Dalai Lama told reporters after the meeting.
After Thursday’s meeting, senior administration officials said the president expressed his support for the preservation of Tibetan culture as part of China, in keeping with U.S. policy.