UPDATE 1-Merkel says China should talk to Dalai Lama

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BERLIN, Jan 29 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday she wanted Beijing to hold talks with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Tibet is one of the most sensitive subjects for Western leaders to broach with China, which views the Dalai Lama as a separatist.

It took months for China to forgive Merkel for meeting the spiritual leader in 2007. Now Beijing is fuming over French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s meeting with the exiled Buddhist leader. Wen has left Paris out of his tour of European capitals this week.

“We talked about the situation in Tibet and from the German side, I emphasised that we have a common interest that talks with the Dalai Lama get under way,” said Merkel at a joint news conference with Wen.

“If there is anything Germany can do in this regard, we would like to help,” she added.

China accuses the Dalai Lama of wanting self-determination for Tibet and has sought to stop him from meeting foreign leaders. The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy, not outright independence.

Envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese held talks in 2008 after a series of riots in Tibet that were the most serious challenge to Chinese rule of the mountainous region for nearly two decades. China blames the Dalai Lama for the unrest.

Beijing last year cancelled a China-EU summit after Sarkozy, who then held the presidency of the European Union, met the Dalai Lama.

Merkel became the first German chancellor to receive the monk and only after Beijing cancelled a number of high-level meetings with German officials, did relations start to thaw.

Now, bilateral ties are back to normal and regular talks on strategic foreign policy issues have been resumed.

Germany’s ties with China have also caused friction in Merkel’s coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD).

Merkel has been more overtly critical of China on human rights issues than her SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will stand against her in September’s federal election. He has attacked Merkel for her reception of the Dalai Lama, accusing her of “show window” diplomacy.