WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush hosted the Dalai Lama on Tuesday despite China’s warning that U.S. plans to honor the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader could damage relations between Beijing and Washington.
Sources in the Dalai Lama’s office said the White House talks began shortly after 1 p.m.
The meeting was held on the eve of a congressional award ceremony for the Dalai Lama, but the Bush administration took pains to keep the encounter with the president low-key in an apparent bid to placate China.
Beijing has bitterly denounced plans for the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since staging a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, to receive the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday.
Bush was scheduled to attend the ceremony on Capitol Hill, marking the first time a sitting U.S. president will appear in public with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whom China regards as a separatist and a traitor.
“We are furious,” Tibet’s Communist Party boss, Zhang Qingli, told reporters. “If the Dalai Lama can receive such an award, there must be no justice or good people in the world.”
White House spokesman Tony Fratto denied that Bush’s private meeting with the Dalai Lama, the president’s fourth since taking office, was meddling in China’s internal affairs.
But he insisted: “We respect the Chinese concerns. We do.”
Trying to play down the symbolism of the talks, Bush met the Dalai Lama in the White House residence instead of the Oval Office where he normally welcomes visiting world leaders.
White House staff took the unusual step of refusing to even say when the meeting would place. Reporters were not allowed to glimpse the two together, and no photographs were released.